Shakespeare Grammar

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wozub
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Shakespeare Grammar

Postby wozub » Sat Jul 31, 2010 5:40 pm UTC

In King Lear
Kent says

"None of these rogues and cowards
But Ajax is their fool."

And in Hamlet, Hamlet says

"There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark
But he's an arrant knave."

What do you make of this particular grammatical construct? Where did it go? Are there similar usages today in other languages?

Aiwendil42
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby Aiwendil42 » Sat Jul 31, 2010 5:57 pm UTC

I think this construction is still around, though not so common. I feel like I've heard (mainly older) people say things like "There are X people (in such and such a group) and there's not a one of them but Y", where X is some large number, emphasizing the universality of Y.

Makri
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby Makri » Sat Jul 31, 2010 6:16 pm UTC

I don't think this should be called a grammatical construction. It's just meanings of "but" that have become uncommon or vanished.
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RabbitWho
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby RabbitWho » Sat Jul 31, 2010 11:51 pm UTC

I still use "but" that way all the time, I even tried to use it in Czech class but of course it doesn't exist. Blank looks.

It's even in an idiom:
"It never rains but it pours"
It doesn't mean "however" it means it never rains without pouring.

"Jaayze that one, she's never steps outside the door but she's complaining."

"Well there's never a Brad Pitt movie but there's someone dying in it!" I said that just now to my dad because Brad Pitt's on the tv.

Aiwendil42
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby Aiwendil42 » Sun Aug 01, 2010 12:51 am UTC

"It never rains but it pours"


Ah! I knew there was some common expression using "but" in this way but couldn't think of what it was, and it was driving me crazy. Thanks for rescuing me!

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gmalivuk
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Aug 01, 2010 5:03 am UTC

RabbitWho wrote:It's even in an idiom:
"It never rains but it pours"
Being in an idiom doesn't mean an expression's still current otherwise, though. There are all kinds of frozen constructions that get preserved in idioms even after they've disappeared from everywhere else in the language.
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unus vox
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby unus vox » Sun Aug 01, 2010 5:34 am UTC

I disagree with the notion that this syntactical construction has all but disappeared. Although, no one but a meticulous linguist would take note of its occurrence.

I think what might seem to set your examples apart is their further obfuscation through relatively awkward wording. In the example from Hamlet, you quoted: ""There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark / But he's an arrant knave." Today, however, we would say something along the lines of, ""There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark / but he who is an arrant knave." It still sounds a bit strange, but the construction is still there and is still used today (as evidenced by my first two sentences).
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wozub
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby wozub » Sun Aug 01, 2010 6:43 am UTC

I think I get it, and yeah it has to do more with the meaning of the word 'but'.

I found another one "For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass" which is translated as "For there never was a pretty woman who didn’t like to preen in the mirror."

"There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark 124 But he's an arrant knave. " -> "There isn't a villian in Denmark who doesn't also happen to be an arrant knave."

"None of these rogues and cowards but Ajax is their fool." -> "None of these rogues and cowards here have not made Ajax into their fool.

"It never rains but it pours." -> "It never rains [here] without also pouring."

So I suppose if we wanted to use this construction in a modern setting we could say something like
"There was never a lawyer but he stole all my money." ?

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unus vox
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby unus vox » Sun Aug 01, 2010 7:16 am UTC

"There was never a lawyer but he stole all my money."


Yeah, that seems to be pretty close to your other examples. Though, again, I think you're focusing too much on the wording. Unless you want something that has similar diction and syntax to your Shakespearean examples, we can use more modern sounding sentences that still use "but" in the same way.

Ex: "There are no lawyers but those who steal my money."

Admittedly, this still sounds kind of awkward. Modern usage would lean more toward something along the lines of "I like everyone but lawyers."

Of course, this form of "but" mostly gets replaced with a double negative these days, such as, "There was never a lawyer who didn't steal my money."

I couldn't give an exact reason why this use of "but" has become seemingly more awkward - if there is a reason at all. Language drops and adopts words simply based on the commonality of their usage, which can have any number of factors. Most of the time, this is simply because people make a collective decision that one thing sounds better than another, and the old way of saying something fades into obscurity. If I were to guess, I'd say people found this manner of speaking too indirect; language tends to change toward that which is more efficient.**

**This is not a universal, linear rule. The complexity of a grammar, like any dynamic system, fluctuates. But after a grammar has identified a comprehensive and firm set of rules, I feel confident in saying that syntactical conventions tend to become more straightforward over time. ++

++O.K. The more I think about it, the more I'm finding exceptions to my statement. Language is entirely too complex to make any sort of blanket statement like that. I withdraw my statement.
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Aiwendil42
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby Aiwendil42 » Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:44 pm UTC

Unless you want something that has similar diction and syntax to your Shakespearean examples, we can use more modern sounding sentences that still use "but" in the same way.


I'm sure I've heard people say things like: "There are over a million lawyers in the U.S. and there's not a one of them but's a crook." I know this is anecdotal, but I'm pretty sure this usage is alive and well.

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gmalivuk
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Aug 01, 2010 3:38 pm UTC

unus vox wrote:Though, again, I think you're focusing too much on the wording. Unless you want something that has similar diction and syntax to your Shakespearean examples, we can use more modern sounding sentences that still use "but" in the same way.
Sure, if we're treating this as a question of whether the meaning of "but" has changed since Shakespeare. The original post, however, treated it as a change in grammar, which actually seems to be what happened, if the original syntax no longer sounds grammatical, Makri's assertion to the contrary notwithstanding.
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RabbitWho
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby RabbitWho » Sun Aug 01, 2010 8:04 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
RabbitWho wrote:It's even in an idiom:
"It never rains but it pours"
Being in an idiom doesn't mean an expression's still current otherwise, though. There are all kinds of frozen constructions that get preserved in idioms even after they've disappeared from everywhere else in the language.



Well how do you do! Of course! Did you read anything else I said? It clearly hasn't disappeared everywhere else.

unus vox wrote:I disagree with the notion that this syntactical construction has all but disappeared. Although, no one but a meticulous linguist would take note of its occurrence.


:X

wozub
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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby wozub » Mon Aug 02, 2010 12:56 am UTC

The Free Dictionary (from the Collins English Dictionary) gives this one definition of 'but'

conj (subordinating)
1. (usually used after a negative) without it happening or being the case that we never go out but it rains


And the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives

7 (literary) used to emphasize that something is always true
She never passed her old home but she thought of the happy years she had spent there (= she always thought of them).


And finally Merriam-Webster

1c. : without the concomitant that <it never rains but it pours>

None of these definitions say this usage is archaic or obselete so ...
I guess RabbitWho wins. :)

(Although Oxford does say it is literary.)

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Re: Shakespeare Grammar

Postby RabbitWho » Mon Aug 02, 2010 2:19 pm UTC

I guess it's literary in some places! But people do say it where I'm from. That happens a lot, something dies in "standard" British English (Since that was an Oxford dictionary) and stays alive in pockets around the place. Like "Gotten" as the older past participle of get vs. "Got" which they say in England now. E.g. It has got worse. vs. It has gotten worse.

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