The Grice Club


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Is Grice the greatest philosopher that ever lived?

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Fowler's Implicatures


Quinion informs us -- © Michael Quinion 1996-2015. that

"[a] new edition of [Fowler's] venerable guide always repays close study."
in terms of implicatures and such.

"The previous revisions of W. H. Fowler’s magisterial work ... led to accusations that its editors were being too kind to ill-educated speakers ... who perverted its splendour by introducing barbarous usages."
Or worse, barbarian!
The fact is

"conservatives have given up on Fowler" after it based many of the recommendations NOT
on the way over-careful and traditional users thought it ought to be used."

And Grice was one of them!

Fowler has a problem with "less" versus "fewer":

“Regrettably, the facts of language, as so often happens, are more complicated than simple, or simplistic, rules allow.”

And worse, for Grice there are no rules! (In the William James lectures he openly criticised his younger colleague at Oxford, J. R. Searle, for talking 'rules', which to Grice sounded 'stuffy'.

Fowler is organized "dall'A alla Z", as the Italians would put it.

"About absolutely, the Fowler says that "it is no exaggeration to say that it has altogether ousted ‘yes’"

Perhaps there is a different implicature, though:

A: Is it raining?
B: Absolutely.

---- Odd.

"Absolutely" is "yes -- but surely you were expecting ME to answer in the affirmative, right?"


"Of another word that frequently infuriates, the Fowler concurs with the recent decision of the Oxford English Dictionary to recognise the figurative use of literally to mean “figuratively”, a sense that goes back at least to Dickens."

Grice deals with 'ironically':

i. Ironically, he is a fine friend (~+> He is a scoundrel).

ii. Metaphorically, you're the cream in my coffee.

'literally', fig. figuratively -- we may call the IMPLICATURE paradox. If you EXPLICITLY communicate what you are implicating, you kill the effect.

But the Fowler cautions, after nearly two pages of discussion: “Knowing that your readers may have the screaming abdabs (dated British slang for ‘have a fit’) if they read literally prefacing a metaphor ... you might want to avoid using it altogether.”"

iii.  A: Literally, you're the cream in my coffee.
       B: Absolutely.

Under ambiguity (recall Grice, "avoid ambiguity of expression"), the Fowler writes: “some highly ambiguous — and often comical — phrasing does get into print ... and provides an easy target for satire."

Even if the satire is Griceian.

Of address, the Fowler  remarks, “People in the business of not really meaning what they say love this verb."
-- which is perhaps a hyperbole, seeing that Grice loved not meaning what he said (but implicated) and used 'addreseee', rather.
Contra Hart and J. L. Austin, alibi no longer solely means a defence on the grounds that the accused was somewhere else at the time but can be used of any excuse, pretext or justification.

Except of you go by Speranza's Participial: do not multiply senses beyond necessity, and use 'alibi' etymologically, if you happen to know the etymon.

To say the letter h as haitch, the Fowler  argues, will eventually prevail in British English, “unspeakably uncouth though it may appear” to older speakers."

like the Ancient Romans, who although WROTE the "H" on monuments and stuff, never cared to pronounce it (hence Italian).

Of like as a sentence filler, the Folwer remarks that “Overuse will cause listeners outside the speaker’s immediate social circle, wider social group or age cohort to ignore the content of the message, to assume that the speaker is little short of brain-dead, or, in extreme cases, to wish they had a discreet firearm to hand.”

On the other hand, it can come handy:

iv. You are like the cream in my coffee, like.

His advice makes clear the dangers for the inexperienced writer that lie behind many innocent-looking words and phrases. But the new Fowler is worth consulting even by Griceian writers who think they know the language well and what idioms implicate.

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