Somebody changed "Firstly" to "First" on the Installing Moodle page. I suspected the usual, unintentional dialect arrogance of many speakers of English (include my name at the top of the list), had come into play.
Out of respect for history of the page, I never touched "Firstly, don't panic" My preference would be "First, do not panic," but tradition is tradition.
In short, I did some homework which I posted on the page comment. Firstly is a word and has been in constant use for over 450 years in the English language. A dictionary of English usage (published in 1989 in Springfield, Mass, USA) says it is a matter of preference whether to use firstly or first.
It made for fascinating reading. I was a little disappointed that a blog was cited in the summary for the change. Did you know an opium eater first objected to the use of firstly in 1847?
My win win, was to change it back to "firstly" and add a "secondly" and "thirdly" in the introduction. There is just something reassuring that happens with the addition of the "ly". Maybe because if rhymes with friendly?
Thought I would share. I am still laughing,
My first instinct is to go straight in and strip out the "ly" on each and every one of those accursed words!
But hey, I trained as a journalist and was a book editor for fifteen years before I went into teaching, so I'm a painful pedant when it comes to such things, and was drilled with the old "less is more" philosophy until it drips from my pores. More syllables when less would do? Aaaaaaargh!
As a teacher of English, however (the new me), I'm right with you. It communicates the message, you've made it consistent, and like so many matters of style, it's more opinion than some sort of "law of the word".
More power to you!
I'm only twitching a little bit now ...
Hoisted with my own petard!
You may also have noticed that this appalling misuse of the language has its rise in the first decades of the 20th century, which, coincidentally, happens to be the time when the Harvard Business School starts to gain some influence. It is another 40 years before that influence is so keenly felt, but by the end of the 1920s, all sorts of bastardizations of the language have become commonplace.
By the time that a Harvard graduate became the head of a major car company then Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy Administration, Harvard cemented its position in the business, political and academic world by giving us such gems as the Harvard Standard for Referencing in Academic Research, the Business School itself, and a range of executives that have managed to drive their companies, and the rest of us, into bankruptcy or themselves into gaol, jail for our gallant American compatriots, or both. However, I am drifting off topic here.
It should also be recognized that the words "Don't Panic" appear on the front cover of that remarkable book "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Addams, himself not a Harvard graduate, published by the Sirius Publishing Corporation. Adding the word "Firstly", then changing that to "First", does not enhance the advice given, in fact, it should be deleted all together, and an image of the cover of the book should be placed there instead.
The word "Firstly", or "First" implies there is a second step after panicking. This allows a whole industry of misconceptions to arise, one that could be construed as being aimed at giving Moodle documentation writers a whole raison d'être. Of course, we know that this is just not so, but for the laity, it would not be a healthy outcome for them to consider this as a possibility. It may also be of some concern to realize that, without acknowledgment, Moodle.org may find itself on the receiving end of some extremely large legal bills in which a range of legal people and other vampires may keep themselves well fed for a couple of weeks.
Change it to an image, after asking for permission to use, of course.
"Let there be no short answers!"
My theory is that David did not mis-type anything, I think that was his suppressed writer side revealing itself after years of being repressed by the editor and teacher.
If it were me I would blame it on not wearing my glasses, or the fact that my conscience self thinks one thing but my fingers seem to want to type something else as I get older.
Entirely too much fun and good humor in a multi cultural environment. Thanks all! And you too Helen
Nice try, Chris. Unfortunately my bedside guide to good English, Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage (1st published 1947, Penguin edition, 1963) considers "firstly" as "inferior".
My win win, was to change it back to "firstly" and add a "secondly" and "thirdly" in the introduction. There is just something reassuring that happens with the addition of the "ly".
We don't want the style of Moodle's documentation to look "inferior", do we? Inferior to what or whom, we may wonder.
"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."
Different sources, different opinions. Not withstanding that I tend to agree with Mr. Partridge, my living room boxed set of the Compact Edition of the OED (1971) on page 253 says:
Webster notes this was the start of the controversy around the word. The OED attributes written use to Dewes in 1652 and onward through Gladstone in 1857. In contrast "neologism" (meaning "new word") first came into use in English from the French in 1806. Clearly De Quincy, Lamb, Partridge and others do not favor the word "Firstly".
While I can hardly confess that the OED is bedside reading material, I am greatly relived that I found another source that allows the use of Firstly. Then there is opening sentence in Moodle Docs that ends in "to" which bugs me more than firstly.
Entirely too much fun! Thanks Joseph for an excellent come back tickle. Chris
He is alleged to have responded thus (or thusabouts) to an editorial attempt to have him revise a sentence that suffered from such a "problem":
"That is the sort of nonsense up with which I shall not put."
There are variations on the precise wording of the sentence stem, but "up with which I shall not put" appears to remain the constant.
Funny, and a rich and telling riposte, but sadly not one of the great man's.
As for split infinitives ...
I'm not the first to say it, and I won't be the last, but imagine if the USS Enterprise were not "to boldly go where no man had gone before", but instead "boldly to go ..." or "to go boldly ...".
The show would have bombed in a week!
I therefore propose that the split infinitive be praised to the skies and adopted forthwith as the best means of assuring that we know precisely to which verb the adverb belongs! Death to ambiguities disguised as proper English!
My pet peeve though would have to be the use of language as a ponderous tool experts use to bamboozle and bluff their way in and out of situations where ordinary people are, by virtue of their inability to recognize when they are being lied to by an expert, are just left wondering what someone has just said. I am thinking here specifically of economists who, when you think about what they are saying, you realise that it actually does not make any sense - even though it was all so wonderfully logical, if somewhat cryptic, when they said it.
Bilbo has a lot to answer for actually.
Congratulations for cramming no less than exactly 100 words into one single sentence and still make it perfectly clear and understandable by ordinary people like myself!
And, this statement is something up with which I shall -- and, I hope, my compatriots shall -- indeed, put!
Extra Credit for properly critiquing the punctuation in the previous paragraph.
Ah! punctuation... May I recommend the - to my mind - most entertaining and instructive reference on that topic: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
but my previous post is actually two sentences...
Oops! You're right, Colin. So I should rephrase my own post as "Congratulations for cramming no less than exactly 100 words into 2 sentences in a single paragraph etc."
Not quite as spectacular, I admit, but the congrats still hold.
I am afraid that English is just not my strong suit, unless it is flattering my ego and being used in that wonderful past-time of self-adulation. And my French is even worse -
Too kool fer skewl....
Mind you, I couldn't half go une baguette avec jambon et fromage!
And that's pretty much how I survived a month in Paris in 1996. Voilà!
Like any unsightly appendage, a dangling participle is an eyesore in want of an axe!
Take that as you will. I'm certain a postmodern feminist reading of that statement would put many of us chaps in mortal danger of a wound from which we'd never recover!
Colin has some support, though, from Dictionary com:
"When neither is followed by a prepositional phrase with a plural object, there has been, ever since the 17th century, a tendency, especially in speech and less formal writing, to use a plural verb and personal pronoun: Neither of the guards were at their stations. In edited writing, however, singular verbs and pronouns are more common in such constructions: Neither of the guards was at his station."
Reminds me of the, probably apocryphal, but very elegant last words of the grammarian Vaugelas, "Mes amis, je m'en vais ou je m'en vas; l'un et l'autre se dit ou se disent."
Vaugelas! Oh you take me back!!!! Reminds me of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme having a grammar lesson in an attempt to be a bit classier and he comes out with the brilliant line
Par moi foi! Il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose sans que j'en susse rien!