Catholic World News‘s pseudonymous scribe Diogenes has kept his eagle eye on the liturgical-translation debates for some time now. Little escapes his gaze–not even what he perceives as the grammatical mistakes of those who dare to speak on the subject.
Exhibit A: Diogenes (in this case ur-Diogenes, not his sometime doppelgangers, whom I’ve discussed elsewhere), in his satirist pose, notes Tom Reese’s quote in a story about the new liturgical translations. Here’s what Reese said:
“This is another example of Rome taking authority away from bishops and
bishops’ conferences. Basically, it’s saying that people in Rome –
including people for whom Spanish and German is their first language –
know how to translate the Mass into English better than the American
bishops and the other English-speaking bishops do.”
In response, ur-Diogenes offers the following:
Dear Father Reese,
This Congregation thanks you for your valuable
comments regarding the peril of submitting English translations of
Latin liturgical texts to the judgment of non-English speakers. Your
cautions are duly noted. Perhaps it is opportune to point out that, in
the quotation above, the word “taking” should not be understood as a
participle modifying “Rome”; it is, rather, the gerund. Therefore,
conformity to the rules of English grammar requires the correction to
“This is another example of Rome’s taking authority away …”
Wishing you, and your spirit, every blessing, I am,
faithfully dynamically equivalently yours,
Akpan Udo Okon
Dept of Anglophone Patronisation
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
This would be funnier if it were true, but it seems ur-Diogenes’ philological acumen doesn’t range much past the peevish, though lively, judgments of H. W. Fowler. It was Fowler who coined the term “fused participle” to describe a participle that is used as a noun (gerund) and preceded by a noun or pronoun not in the possessive case. The classic example of the fused participle goes something like this: “Me reading Off the Record burns my retinas.” It should be, “My reading…” But always?
According to Bryan Garner, whose magisterial Garner’s Modern American Usage and its prequel, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, have proved indispensible to editorial work in the States, no.
The fused participle is said to lack a proper grammatical relationship to the preceding noun or pronoun. Yet no one today doubts that Fowler overstated his case in calling fused participles “grammatically indefensible” and in never admitting exception. The grammarians Otto Jespersen annd George Curme have cited any number of historical examples and have illustrated the absolute necessity of the fused participle in some sentences (barring a complete rewrite)–e.g.: “The chance of that ever happening is slight.”
A modern rule might be formulated thus: when the -ing participle has the force of a noun, it preferably takes a possessive subject, especially in formal contexts. But when the -ing participle has the force of a verb, a nonpossessive subject is acceptible, especially in informal contexts.
It seems the context of an interview for a newspaper article would qualify as informal. Garner also points out that when the fused participle falls in the predicate of a sentence, an object could in fact be a fused participle. As in, say, “This is another example of Rome taking authority away.”
The rest of the response has its humorous moments (despite the gaffe of including both “you” and “your spirit”–one or the other, usually), but that sound you hear drowning them out is the bottom of a barrel being vigorously scraped.