May 14, 2005

Moving both forward and backward

A 5/13/2005 NYT article by Ian Fisher and Laurie Goodstein, running under the headline "Pope Names American to Be Guardian of Church Doctrine", features some very odd writing. In particular, the authors seem to have a thing for floating conjunctive both past a clause-initial participle. There is one example in the very first sentence:

Acting both symbolically and consolidating his young rule, Benedict XVI announced today his first major public acts as pope: He named an American archbishop to be the guardian of church doctrine and he said he would speed up the process to make his popular predecessor, John Paul II, a saint.

And then another, a few paragraphs later:

And so, the double-barreled announcements today marked the most significant public day so far in his brief reign, looking both forward to his own future and tying up unfinished business around his old boss and predecessor, John Paul II, that is likely to be well-received among Catholics.

This placement of both is so weird, to my taste, that it must be either the leading edge of a syntactic change that I've completely missed, or a particularly egregious misapplication of some prescriptive stricture that I've never heard of.

The general idea of conjunctive both floating around a bit is perfectly reasonable, in some cases. The canonical pattern is

both [ .......... ] and [ .......... ]
He both [leaves for work] and [arrives home] in darkness.

but (as CGEL points out on p. 1307) both can sometimes wander rightwards inside the first conjunct:

[ ... both ........ ] and [ .......... ]
[He both overslept] and [his bus was late]

and also leftwards outside it:

both ... [ .......... ] and [ .......... ]
This was made clear both to [the men] and [their employers]

This both-floating makes some people uneasy wherever it occurs, but at least the second case has been around for a long time, as in these examples from the OED:

1649 SELDEN Laws Eng. I. lxvii. 176 (1739) The Guardian in Socage remaineth accomptant to the Heir, for all profits both of Land and Marriage.
1766 GOLDSM. Vic. W. ii. (1806) 7, I looked upon this as a masterpiece both for argument and style.
1874 THEARLE Naval Archit. 116 The pillaring of a frame its strength, by acting both as a strut and a tie.

With determiners, the only real options are to float both to the left ("both her fork and spoon") or to repeat the determiner ("both her fork and her spoon"), since both is not allowed inside the determiner in modern English ("*her both fork and spoon"). The pattern both DET [...] and [...] seems to be several times more common, across the board, than the pattern both DET [...] and DET [...]:

{"both the first and last"} 14,200 {"both the first and the last"} 4,320
{"both our clients and candidates"} 5,250 {"both our clients and our candidates"} 1,350
{"both our internal and external"} 3,570 {"both our internal and our external"} 29
{"both the singles and doubles"} 772 {"both the singles and the doubles"} 189
{"both his|her life and death"} 452 {"both his|her life and his|her death"} 260
{"both the full and half"} 295 {"both the full and the half"} 30
{"both my home and business"} 101 {"both my home and my business"} 46

With prepositions, left-floated both is now fairly common but by no means dominant, as these Google counts indicate:

  both for __ and __ both for __ and for __ for both __ and __ for both __ and for __
men / women
boys / girls
hardware / software
home / office
audio / video
color|colour /
black and white
food / drink

The rightmost column (in blue) might be analyzed as the third column with both floated into the first conjunct: "both for boys and for girls" → "for both boys and for girls". It feels like a mistake to me; and the very low counts (roughly 1 in 6,000 overall, or 1 in 12 relative to the cases with repeated for) suggest that most people agree.

In any case, the two WTF examples from the NYT article that started out this post are cases of right-floating both, and these seem to be as rare as my reaction suggests they should be. After a fair amount of searching, I was not able to find any other examples with participles, and only one (marginal) example of any kind at all (aside from the possible prepositional examples above):

A state collapses when both its repressive and ideological apparatuses disintegrate and when the central authority is unable to check rampant corruption .

Perhaps the counts for the P both [...] and P [...] case are representative of the frequency of such patterns, in which case you'd have to sift a lot of ore to find any, or else think of a very clever way to frame the search.

I guess there's another possible explanation, besides language change in progress or a copy editor with delusions; perhaps this article, like The Dante Club, has slipped through some compositional wormhole from a parallel universe where linguistic norms are slightly different. Certainly there are some other constructions in the same article that took me aback. For instance, consider the second sentence:

Until he was elected pope last month, Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, held for 24 years the doctrinal job, one of the most powerful and contentious posts in the Roman Catholic church.

I guess the following appositive ought to make "the doctrinal job" heavy enough to shift to the end of its clause, but it still seems wrong to me.

[By the way, Arnold Zwicky mentions the analogous rightward shift of either in his post on Astounding coordinations (continued), including a terrific example from Darwin's Origin of Species: "... the stripes are either plainer or appear more commonly in the young". It's easier to find examples of this type, perhaps because they're more commonly accepted and used, or perhaps because it's easier to eliminate irrelevant cases from the search than it is with both. Here are a few:

All people aged 16 - 74 who are either resident in the area or work in the area...
It also seems to be more common on animals which are either sickly or have sustained some sort of injury.
Sarice are ankle length and are either sleeveless or have long sleeves...
These are people who are either paid or will receive some form of compensation for praising the product.
Of students admitted in the past five years, about 80% have either graduated or are in good standing...


Posted by Mark Liberman at May 14, 2005 04:46 AM