July 8, 2010
Weekly Language Usage Tips: Manifest, transitive and intransitive verbs & errant, erroneous, arrant, or erring
Tip 1: Manifest, transitive and intransitive verbs
A reader writes:
I wondered if you’d comment on the use of “manifest” as an intransitive verb.
“An absolute or relative shortage of circulating, biologically active cortisol often manifests as catecholamine-unresponsive shock.”
Manifests itself? Is manifested by? Presents with?
Let’s start with the basics. A transitive verb is a verb of action and it takes a direct object, that is, it transfers the action to the object.
The heat wilted the vegetables that were struggling to grow.
The action, here, is ‘wilted’ and it is transferred to the poor vegetables (the object).
An intransitive verb also involves action; however, it cannot take an object.
To avoid the heat, the cats went inside.
The action, here is ‘went,’ and there is no object; ‘inside’ functions as an adverb in this sentence, answering the question, ‘where?’
It gets a bit confusing because many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive depending upon the context. When the same verb is used a both transitive and intransitive, its meaning changes.
After the heat laid waste to the garden, it rained.
Here, ‘rained’ is intransitive, and there is no object. In this sentence, ‘rain’ refers to drops of water falling from a cloud.
After her performance, the critics rained praises for her talent.
Here, ‘rain’ is transitive, and the object is ‘praises.’ In this context, ‘rain ‘ means ‘to lavish’ or ‘give in great quantities.’
Those are the basic rules for transitive and intransitive verbs.
So what about manifest? Can it be both a transitive and an intransitive verb? As is so often the case when we discuss language, my answer is no and yes. In almost all cases, ‘manifest’ is considered a transitive verb, that is, it requires an object. The only context I could find for an intransitive use is when referring to ghostly things or spirits. The sentence the reader provided is definitely in the corporeal, rather than the spiritual, realm so an intransitive ‘manifests’ is not appropriate.
What about the other suggestions the reader provided?
‘Manifests itself’ is correct, because ‘itself’ would serve as the object, but it’s awfully clumsy and awkward.
I would stay away from ” is manifested by” because it’s passive and weakens the sentence.
‘Presents with’ is a little better, but in the medical world, it’s usually patients that ‘present with’ something.
Probably the best way to state it is to use ‘presents as’ as suggested by a colleague.
“An absolute or relative shortage of circulating, biologically active cortisol often presents as catecholamine-unresponsive shock.”
And there you have it.
Tip 2: Errant, erring, or erroneous
Last week in the WLUT, I wrote this:
I often edit sentences so the errant investigator can’t be identified.
Afterwards, I wondered if everyone knew the meaning of this word or if the assumption was that errant meant erroneous or erring. It doesn’t. So I thought I would address this in a tip.
‘Errant’ means 1) roaming or wandering or 2) deviating or straying from the proper course or standards. It’s the latter sense I was thinking of when I wrote of our errant investigator.
Both ‘erroneous’ and ‘erring’ mean ‘mistaken.’
Interestingly, and confusingly, ‘erroneous’ and ‘erring’ derive from the same Latin word, errare, meaning ‘to wander,’ while ‘errant’ derives from the Latin, iterare, meaning ‘to travel.’
‘Errant’ is often confused with ‘arrant’ which stems from the same Latin ‘iterare.’ However, ‘arrant’ has a distinctly different meaning. ‘Arrant’ means ‘completely’ or ‘thoroughly’ or ‘egregious’ and is always used as a term of contempt.
“There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.”
Bertrand Russell (British author, mathematician, & philosopher 1872 – 1970)
“The moon’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.”
William Shakespeare (English dramatist, playwright and poet, 1564-1616)
“This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
Attributed to Winston Churchill on not ending a sentence with a preposition. (British statesman, 1874 – 1965)
One thing that surprised me as I was looking into this was that ‘err’ is properly pronounced ‘ur’ as in burr. I am pretty sure that I knew this once upon a time, but it has been so long since I pronounced it any way other that ‘ayre’ that I forgot. I will continue to pronounce it ‘ayre.’ This usage is so widespread that I think that it’s acceptable these days.