November 19, 2006

Statisticians and their conjunctions

Matthew Cheney's "Rules for Writing":

If you use adjectives in your prose, do not use nouns. If you use nouns, you must not use verbs. If you use verbs, try to avoid verbs that specify a particular city.

When specifying particular cities in fiction, do not use cities that have been specified in poems. Poems have so few things left of their own anymore that we should let them have their own cities. [...]

If you write about the weather, use as many adjectives as you can, or else your nouns will wilt and become adverbs.

Some coaches insist adverbs are stronger than nouns, but an independent panel of statisticians has proved otherwise. Despite appearances, though, statisticians don't like nouns so much as they adore conjunctions.

I believe that this is the best stylistic advice dealing with parts of speech that is now available, pending the publication of Ben Yagoda's "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better And/Or Worse".

One emendation, though: statisticians only adore conjunctions of statistically-independent events.

[And you will need to interpret Ben Yagoda's title (though not the contents of his book) in the light of Geoff Pullum's classic LL post "Those who take the adjectives from the table", 2/18/2004.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 19, 2006 12:41 AM