January 20, 2010

Language Tips: One a day/one per day & awake, awaken, wake, waken

Posted in per day/a day at 2:41 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: One a day or one per day

A reader writes:

We enrolled patients 3 days a week.

We enrolled patients 3 days per week.

I always thought that the first of these was not English, but I see it all the time. Please enlighten!

This was a very interesting topic to research because, while the answer did not come as a surprise, the vitriol with which language mavens addressed the issue did. And what’s really interesting is that while the reader reports thinking that ‘3 days a week’ is not English, the real problem, as seen by these language mavens, is that ‘per’ is not English!

Let’s take a step back. Per is from the Latin ‘per’ meaning ‘through, during, by means of, on account of, as in.’ It originally was relegated to the business world. Somewhere along the line, it left the confines of business, and crept into everyday use and came to mean, in the context we are using here, ‘ each.’

‘Foul!’ say the mavens, ‘How dare you use a foreign word as a common English word?

Say what?’ I ask, thinking of et al., e.g., ibid., in loco parentis, ataxia, tachycardia, non sequitor, habeas corpus, etcetera.

According to Fowler:

It is affected to use Latin when English will serve you as well; so much a year is better than per annum and much better than per year.

Others are more adamant, and as per gets its lumps as well:

The expression [per] is business jargon at its worst and should be avoided. Equally annoying is the expression as per. (Charles T. Brusaw et al, 1987)

According to Bill Walsh:

We love per and the superfluous as per in office memos (Boom boxes are not allowed on desks during working hours, per Joanne), but actual writing demands actual writing, and there are countless ways to actually write such a thing.

Jack Lynch jumps on as per:

Avoid the businessese habit of using per instead of according to, as in per manufacturers’ guidelines. Ick.

Even the very sensible Bill Bryson is unsettled by the use of per:

Many usage guides suggest, and some insist, that Latinisms like per should be avoided when English phrases are available — that it is better to write 10 times a year than 10 times per year. That is certainly reasonable enough in general, but I would suggest that when avoiding the Latin results and clumsy constructions such as output a man a year, you shouldn’t hesitate to use per.

Whew! Everyone needs to calm down. There must be thousands of words in English that we have borrowed from Latin. It’s not fair to come down on poor little per. Okay, I agree that using as per can be viewed as an affectation and is best avoided, but 2 per day, 5 per year? Come on.

As I see it, both of the reader’s examples are correct. It’s fine to say:

We enrolled patients 3 days a week.

And it’s fine to say:

We enrolled patients 3 days per week.

Lighten up. And to those who agree with me and say we use foreign words in English all the time, I say, ‘touché.’

Tip 2: Awake, wake, waken, awaken

A friend called me to ask about this, saying she thinks she has been using these words incorrectly for years, but she isn’t sure of the correct forms.

I am very sympathetic to my friend’s confusion. I think lots of people share it.

For instance, Fowler begins his discussion with this:

awake, awaken, wake, waken. Awake has past awoke, rarely awaked, and past participle awaked sometimes awoken and rarely awoke; wake has past awoke, rarely (and that usually in transitive sense) waked, and past participle waked, rarely woke or woken; awaken and waken have -ed.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

The American Heritage Dictionary provides this usage note:

Usage Note: The pairs wake, waken and awake, awaken have formed a bewildering array since the Middle English period. All four words have similar meanings, though there are some differences in use. Only wake is used in the sense “to be awake,” as in expressions like waking (not wakening) and sleeping, every waking hour. Wake is also more common than waken when used together with up, and awake and awaken never occur in this context: She woke up (rarely wakened up; never awakened up or awoke up). Some writers have suggested that waken should be used only transitively (as in The alarm wakened him) and awaken only intransitively (as in He awakened at dawn), but there is ample literary precedent for usages such as He wakened early and They did not awaken her. In figurative senses awake and awaken are more prevalent: With the governor’s defeat the party awoke to the strength of the opposition to its position on abortion. The scent of the gardenias awakened my memory of his unexpected appearance that afternoon years ago.

Does that help? I didn’t think so.

Let me see if I can simplify it a bit.

Awake, wake, waken, and awaken are all separate verbs that share the same meaning. Waken isn’t used very much, so I am going to get rid of it to keep things simple. Part of the confusion comes because of their meanings. They can mean either to rouse or to become roused. Don’t you just hate it already?

The declensions are:

TENSE                         AWAKE                         AWAKEN        WAKE

PRESENT                    awake                             awaken             wake

PAST                            awoke or awaked       awakened        woke

PAST PARTICIPLE        awaked or awoken   awakened          waked or woken

By the way, Garner notes that:

The past tense and past participial forms of wake and its various siblings are perhaps most vexing in the language.

NOTE: Before you go running off into the night screaming, please note that participle and participial mean the same thing. I don’t know why Garner chose participial. Those language guys!

I was going to give you usage examples, but this post is getting alarmingly long. And then I thought to myself, the good news about using these words, is that hardly anyone will know if you are right or wrong. So knock yourselves out; it’s one of our rare opportunities.

NOTE: I included some references here without the entire citations. The citations for the references that I use commonly can always be found here: <https://languagetips.wordpress.com/about/>

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