April 30, 2009

Language Tips: economic or economical? & shall or will?

Posted in economic/economical, shall/will at 7:00 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Economic or economical?

Bill wrote:

The ’empiric’ vs ’empirical’ issue reminds me of ‘economic’ and ‘economical’. Are they both acceptable?

Great question. They actually have distinct meanings and cannot be used interchangeably. Economic refers to resources, material goods, financial things, and the like. (I decided to use quotations for examples, today, no particular reason. Quotes are courtesy of bartleby.com.)

Our domestic problems are for the most part economic. We have our enormous debt to pay, and we are paying it. We have the high cost of government to diminish, and we are diminishing it. We have a heavy burden of taxation to reduce, and we are reducing it. But while remarkable progress has been made in these directions, the work is yet far from accomplished.
Calvin Coolidge, Message to Congress. 1924

At the crash of economic collapse of which the rumblings can already be heard, the sleeping soldiers of the proletariat will awake as at the fanfare of the Last Judgment and the corpses of the victims of the struggle will arise and demand an accounting from those who are loaded down with curses.

Karl Liebknecht, quoted in Albert Camus’s The Rebel, 1951

Economical means frugal, thrifty, or parsimonious. Isn’t parsimonious a lovely word? It comes from the Latin, parsimonia, itself a lovely word. Interestingly, Bartleby’s quotes for economical have quite a different tone.

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical. Anonymous

The training and Education of the girl of the present have seldom been discussed except from one standpoint—her suitable preparation for becoming an economical housekeeper, an inexpensive wife, a willing and self-forgetful mother, a cheap, unexacting, patient, unquestioning, unexpectant, ministering machine. The girl’s usefulness to herself, to her sex and race, her preferences, tastes, happiness, social, intellectual or financial prosperity, hardly have entered into the thought upon this question.

Ruth C. D. Havens, Twenty-fifth annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association. 1893

So what about economically? Drat. Economically is the adverb form of both economic and economical. It’s enough to make you want to write a limerick.

Tip 2: Shall or will?

I sent an email to a friend this week in which I wrote:

So we shall see you in the middle of May!

It got me to thinking. Is shall antiquated and no longer useful? When I began to investigate this, I was well and truly dissed.

”People who [use shall] run the risk of sounding pretentious or haughty.” ”No American under 80 uses shall.” (ouch!) ”[If someone used shall,] I would assume he was pulling my leg.” ”Here in the U.S. it would only be heard in the more upscale boutiques and salons in, perhaps NYC, DC, Philly and other large cities.” (I’m not sure why, but that sounds like it is intended to be pejorative.) ”In the U.S., ‘shall’ Is losing its relevance day by day.” ”It might have been my grandmother’s generation…” ” In the U.S., people who started school before the Korean War were taught distinctly different usages for will and shall.” (Hey, the Korean War was long over when I started school.) ”[The use of shall] is used mainly as an archaism or affectation.” ”It [use of shall] was “a nineteenth century affectation [that] certain grammarians have tried hard to establish and perpetuate…[T]hey have not succeeded.”

I could go on but I’d rather not. So what’s the story with will and shall? Well, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in elementary school (otherwise known as grammar school–you know, I never made that connection until just now–grammar and grammar school), we were taught that shall is used with the first person (I, we) and will is used with the second or third person (you, he, she, it, they) when talking about the future. There are other rules, too, but they are somewhat confusing and aren’t used anymore, so I’m going to skip them. This usage (using shall for just the first person) died long ago (probably when I was still in elementary school), and I recognize that will is much more commonly used than shall. But is there still a place for shall at all?

Current grammarians say no and that there is no distinction between will and shall. I disagree. While in some cases, I see no real differences, in other cases, I think shall brings with it a sense of intent or determination that isn’t found in will. Think about ‘I shall return’ being stated as ‘I will return.’ There is definitely a different quality. When I read, ‘We shall meet in the middle of May,’ I have a sense of a definitive plan to meet. ‘We will meet in the middle of May’ conveys a sense of ‘we will run into one another in May.’

I discern a definite difference between ‘Shall we get some coffee?’ and ‘Will we get some coffee?’. In the former, I am asking if we plan to get some coffee, and in the latter, I am asking whether we are going to get some coffee.

Are you with me on this? To bolster my argument, I present the conditional forms of will and shall: would and should. Although there is talk that there is no distinction between these words, I say, of course, there is. When we say, ‘He should have agreed to participate in the trial’ we are saying, ‘He ought to have participated’ When we say, ‘He would have participated in the trial,’ we are saying that there is a condition under which he would have participated that was not present (e.g. ‘He would have participated in the trial if he didn’t have to go to work.’)

For me, the bottom line is that I like the distinction I see between will and shall, and so I shall continue to use both.

And for those who scoff at my use of the ancient shall, one encyclopedia reported that even will is being used less than it has been in the past–being largely replaced by going to or have got to. Stay tuned.

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