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in language; i. e. to enable men to talk without meaning, and “ say an infinite deal about nothing": it is wonderfully subservient to effective rhetoric, and enchanting poesy, and deceitful sophistry; but it is very unfavourable to sound reasoning and true philosophy: it must, therefore, be set down as one of the radical imperfections of language: and in guarding against the deception of words, it is particularly necessary to examine their import. Many of them. mean nothing: many are of uncertain import; many being imbued with error and prejudice, serve only to impose on the understanding.
Many Nouns admit of (i. e. we may choose to give to them) a threefold distinction; as being Generic, Specific, Individualic; or, Universal, General, Particular: the first relate to Genus; the second to Species; the third to Individual: as, Man, Italian, Dante; Man, Englishman, Milton: Horse, Racer, Eclipse; Dog, Bull-dog, Billy: Bird, Parrot, Polly: Heavenly bodies, Planets, Sun, or Moon, or Venus, &c. Many Nouns admit only of a twofold distinction: River; the Danube or the Thames, &c. Rivulet is merely a diminutive of River, and the one is as truly generic as the other: Lake; Lake Onega or Maggiore, &c.: Pond is as much generic as Lake: Sea; the Mediterranean or Baltic, &c.: Vice; Drunkenness, Lying, &c: Virtue; Sobriety, Chastity, Honesty, &c. In all such instances, the one may be called generic, the other individualic. River is the generic; Thames is the individualic term:
and thus of Virtue and Chastity, &c.; Vice and Falsehood, &c.
The above statement is intended to supersede the following lucubration of grammar-makers: "Substantives," say they, "are either Proper or Common. Proper Substantives are the names appropriated to individuals: as, George, London, Thames. Common names or substantives, stand for kinds containing many sorts, or for sorts containing many individuals under them; as animal, man, tréé, &c."!!
The reader will perceive that a certain description of Individualic Nouns may be termed arbitrary; for a particular man may be called, George, James, Thomas, &c.; a particular horse may be called Eclipse, Jockey, &c.; a particular heavenly body may be called Venus, Mars, Jupiter, &c., according to the will or fancy of the person or persons imposing the name. This obvious fact is, no doubt, the cause of the assertions so often made concerning language, as being arbitrary and conventional. It will be found, however, upon due inquiry, that comparatively few of those nouns which are considered as merely proper names, (to use the common term,) are thus arbitrary designations; and though many of them have become, in the course of time, mere appellations, wholly devoid of significancy, (for there is now as little meaning in Robert, John, Smith, Taylor, &c., as in Brobdignag-and the one would do as well as the other for a mere designation,) yet they were originally descriptive so far as they went; i. e. of some
striking circumstance or obvious peculiarity. The importance of etymology consists in ascertaining the descriptive import of words; which is not indeed of any great utility as to physical nouns; for they answer the purpose of designation, even if their significancy be not perceived. The names London, Paris, Thames, Rhone, Sun, Moon, like Dante, Milton, &c., answer the purpose of designation completely, however ignorant we may be of their etymology: and it might be even argued (as it has been argued) with some show of reason, that the more of such ignorance which exists the better, as the etymologic meaning might only tend to deceive, by its erroneous representation; as, for example, in the designation Pacific Ocean. The case is very different, however, as to metaphysical nouns (and all metaphysical words, i. e. words employed for metaphysical purposes); for every thing depends upon ascertaining their significancy, or their insignificancy; i. e. whether they mean any thing or nothing; and whether their meaning present natural or chimerical ideas to the imagination, and true or false notions to the understanding. If metaphysical nouns be taken as if they were mere designations, like what are called proper names, without any regard to the reason of their imposition, the consequence must be error and deception; and this (as already intimated) is one of the principal causes of verbal imposture and metaphysical absurdity, or false and deceitful philosophy: to which, the only effectual counteraction that can
be opposed, is sound etymology; though it will never, perhaps, accomplish all that Horne Tooke predicted.
It will be perceived that all nouns, which are in any respect descriptive, (unless, as before intimated, words imitating sounds be considered nouns,) must have been, previously, either attributives or verbs; i. e. there must have been a reason for their imposition before they were employed as nouns.
It will be found also, on due inquiry, that Generic are, in general, prior to Specific, and Specific prior to Individualic terms.
CASE, GENDER, AND NUMBER CONSIDERED, IN
THE grammatists seem, in general, half ashamed of the poverty of our language in this particular; and they have endeavoured, with the best intentions in the world, to enrich it with imaginary cases: and they aver it to have, at the very least, three cases, viz. the nominative, possessive, and the objective. Lindley Murray, indeed, informs us, that he was long harassed with doubts before he arrived at true faith on this important article of his grammatic creed. "The author of this work," he tells us, "long doubted the propriety of assigning to English substantives an objective case: but a renewed, critical
examination of the subject; an examination to which he was prompted by the extensive and increasing demand for the grammar, has produced, in his mind, a full persuasion, that the nouns of our language are entitled to this comprehensive objective case" !!!
But after all the doubts, and full persuasions, an& earnest desires, and strenuous endeavours of grammarians, our language is simpler than even its Saxon and Gothic ancestors; for English nouns have no change of termination, commonly called case; save that which is called possessive alias genitive: as Man's for of man, Woman's for of woman, &c.; and many English nouns do not admit even of this change: yet this defect of cases occasions no loss of significancy and no inconvenience.
The affix's has been already explained; and, therefore, we dismiss the case of English nouns as quite hopeless, by merely remarking, that according to present usage, the s is sometimes omitted out of compliment to the eyes and ears of the public: as, "On eagles' wings;" "The drapers' company;" "For goodness' sake;" "For righteousness' sake:" Not eagles's wings; drapers's company; for righteousness's sake; for goodness's sake. It may be intimated, however, that the ears will be yet more conciliated by saying, in such cases, wings of eagles; the company of drapers; for the sake of righteousness; for the sake of goodness.