Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1996 10:17:11 -0700
From: Peter McGraw pmcgraw[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]CALVIN.LINFIELD.EDU
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...