Date: Sun, 4 Feb 1996 09:22:42 -0500

From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU

Subject: Re: knife & fork

Of course, I am just a hillbilly boy, but I did mean the proverb in its

traditional sense (in which 'prove' = 'test'). I thought the context of my

remarks would have made it clear that that was my meaning. Why David

Bergdahl finds the 'English' sense of 'prove' inapprpriate is a mystery to

me since even my Webster's 9th Collegiate (the closest to hand) offers

(with no 'archaic' label) senses 2 a and b as ones which mean to 'test'

(specifically, 'to test the truth, validity, or genuineness of').

I agree with him, however, that it is indeed interesting to study what it

is people mean by this proverb when they take 'prove' to mean 'establish

the existence, truth, or validity of.' Or at least I think I agree. He

seems to suggest that users who have what he calls the 'English' meaning

here use this (and other such items) 'as if they meant something.' He

apparently distrusts the folk mind a great deal more than I do. I am sure

people who have the 'English' sense of 'prove' mean 'something' when they

use the proverb. What they mean is a matter for empirical investigation.

(Why am I blathering about the fact that it is interesting to find out why

people use language the way they do? What is the ADS about? What is

linguistics? The breakfast hot sauce has gone to my brian.)



PS: The reference David suggests is R. Jakobson, Closing Statement:

Linguistics and Poetics, T. A. Sebeok (ed.) Style in Language, MIT Press,

1960, pp. 350-377. The reference to such preferences is on 356-7, although

it refers only to number of syllables and only to conjoined 'names' (Joan

and Margery).

Ohio University Electronic Communication

Date: 03-Feb-1996 10:16am EST


From: David Bergdahl Dept: English

BERGDAHL Tel No: (614) 593-2783

Subject: knife & fork

Although haj Ross may have extended the analysis, the first discussion of such

matters was Roman Jacobson's concluding remarks to the Indiana Univ conference

on Linguistics and Literature, the papers to which were edited by Sebeok. I

think the conference was in 1958; the essay is widely reprinted in stylistics


On "I think the exceptions only prove but do not destroy the rule": in the

original French of this maxim, PROUVER [= to test], the maxim is true; when the

English PROVE is substituted in the translation, it is obviously false. When

we're done with the repetitions of words frozen in form as the result of a


or the use in a proverbial saying, maybe we can discuss counterfactual

generalizations such as this which are repeated time and again as if they meant



David Bergdahl

Ohio University/Athens

"Where Appalachia meets the Midwest"--Anya Briggs

Received: 03-Feb-1996 10:24am

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)432-1235

Fax: (517)432-2736