Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1996 10:17:11 -0700


Subject: Available by calling

The following sentence appears in a message I received today on another list:

"The 1996 Nonprofit Law Dictionary is available by calling John Wiley Sons

Inc. in Somerset, NJ at 800-225-5945."

I hear the same construction repeatedly on NPR ("Music heard on NPR is

available by calling [no.]").

I would immediately remove this construction from any text I was editing,

and I don't think I'm just being prescriptive: it actually feels wrong to

me. For me, the construction "by x-ing" has to represent a transformation

of an embedded sentence with a subject and verb, with the subject

identical with the one in the main sentence, and as far as I can tell, the

verb in the main sentence has to be in the active voice, e.g., "You can

obtain it by calling..." --- You can obtain it by [you call...]. I can't

decide whether "The dictionary can be obtained by calling..." is

permissible in my grammar or not: maybe the transformational relationship

between active and passive voices makes it possible but marginal. But

hanging a "by x-ing" construction on a predicate adjective really seems

impossible for me, since there's no source for x.

Has anybody else noticed this development, and is it a new phenomenon?

Or has my natural grammar been polluted by pernicious prescriptivism? Or

will someone cite an American Speech article from 50 years ago proving

that the construction is nearly as old as I am? Or from last year

proving that I haven't done my homework...

Peter McGraw

Linfield College

McMinnville, OR