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While Meant

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Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

     —Bob Dylan, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Today’s edition for Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day e-mail subscription service (see covers “meantime; meanwhile.” Garner basically covers the basic: “People use ‘in the meantime’ and ‘meanwhile’ to perform essentially the same adverbial function.”

Garner adds three usage notes —

  • Avoid “in the meanwhile.” — Garner calls this pleonasm “unidiomatic.” Unidiomatic? As in, “Not using or containing expressions natural to a native speaker of a language“? Ummm, which word of the three was not native to his language? M’thinks he wants a different characterization. In the meanwhile, let’s let this be the last time we take the expression for a spin . . .
  • “Meantime” can also go solo. Actually, Garner puts it as “Both ‘meanwhile’ and ‘meantime’ can be used alone, though the former more naturally so….” But since he has already advised us against using “meanwhile” other than solo, he could have then added that a solo “meantime” is less natural than a solo “meanwhile,” but acceptable. And then instead of giving a solo “meanwhile” example as he does, which again simply echoes his first point, how about an instance of an acceptable solo “meantime”? I’ll work on maybe coming up with one; meantime can I add any more “o” syllables to the title of this bullet?
  • Don’t start a sentence with “meantime.” And playfully, he begins the sentence that gives that advice with “Meanwhile, . . .” . . . which we’ll come back around to after a little while here. So alright, he’s let on that it’s sometimes acceptable, albeit less natural than for “meanwhile,” for us to use “meantime” solo, now adding the clarification that we can do so only as long as we’re not beginning a sentence. But then he quite naturally gives us an example of that rule being broken, meantime leaving us with no example in which he’d find a solo “meantime” acceptable. For instance, if it’s unacceptable to use a solo “meantime” to begin a sentence, is it likewise unacceptable to begin a clause with a solo “meantime”? Not that violating a usage rule or two would bother Dylan all that much . . .

Meanwhile, why might we care? Eh, this was why my high school English teacher very seriously steered me away from a flirtation I once had with pursuing a career as an English teacher. And he was honest enough to say so. Because no matter how much I do care, my students meantime would not.

Alright, but I’m a little curious that Garner has left it there. He says the two words serve “essentially” the same adverbial function, but leaves us completely in the dark as to whether his clarifications on solo and sentence commencement cover the non-essential adjuncts to that characterization. And doesn’t bother to mention how modern usage seems finally to have pretty much joined each of the two words from their respective dual-word origins, “mean time” and “mean while.” And since he never actually says exactly what “meantime” or “meanwhile” actually do mean, we’re left presuming that usage here might be independent of meaning, despite his own curious (although not necessarily uncommon to emerging usage . . . but that only serves to emphasize the void he’s left) use of “meanwhile” for his third clarification.

//] - so to speak


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Written by macheide

16 April 2015 at 5:23 pm

Posted in so to speak

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