December 06, 2003

Verb-modifying "far from" in 18thC pornography

I am pleased to rise to Mark Liberman's challenge: "I'm waiting for someone to point out to me that adverbial far from was used by Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and even the author of Beowulf :-)...". I am going to ignore the smilicon at the end here, and take it that he means he would welcome a good example of far from + finite verb in classic works of English literature.

I happen to have a not inconsiderable shelf of fine works of literature from the Victorian period and earlier in my bedroom, and it did not take me long to find this example in John Cleland's 1749 feminist novel of one woman's path to personal discovery, Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Our heroine, after two days alone in Charles' apartment, feeling unwell, and longing to see dear Charles again, decides to ask unsympathetic landlady Mrs Jones downstairs to go out and find him:

The third day my impatience was so strong, my alarms had been so severe, that I perfectly sicken'd with them; and being unable to support the shock longer, I sunk upon the bed and ringing for Mrs. Jones, who had far from comforted me under my anxieties, she came up.

The quotation (my regrets to those of you who were hoping it might include at least some dirty bits) can be seen in context either in my bedroom or at It also contains a nice 18thC dangling participle not controlled by the matrix clause subject ("ringing for Mrs Jones") and an instance of strong verb variation (sunk for sank). (I have said this before and I will say it again: the grammarian who looks into a corpus usually learns at least one or two new things from the first relevant sentence, other than the thing that was initially being investigated.)

Anyway, since David Beaver's main point (despite all the distraction of his Google-based arithmetical estimation) was simply that far from is already well established as a pre-modifier of finite VPs, I would say he wins a point here.

My perusal of Beowulf, the immortal bard of Avon, the fiction of Jane Austen, and the non-fiction of Sir Winston continues, though for some reason works of this kind seem not to be so well represented on the bookshelf by the king-size four-poster.

[Note added a bit later] Oh, and by the way, I'm sure you're wondering whether The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language covers this construction? Not exactly, but on page 1132 it comes extremely close. In the first subsection of 4.5 in chapter 13 you will see that very similar modifiers derived from comparative adjective phrases are discussed: example block [32] cites This more than compensated for the delay, etc. A sentence like This far from compensated for the delay is a natural antonymous structure.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 6, 2003 02:37 PM