February 22nd, 2006
Forbidden to or from / pronouncing Iranian / droll / one of the few who haven't
by Barbara Wallraff
Alice Furlaud, of Brooksville, Maine, writes: “I am having an argument with a friend about the phrase ‘forbidden from.’ She says things like ‘At home we were forbidden from pulling the cat’s tail.’ I say ‘forbidden to pull the cat’s tail’ is the correct form. Help!”
Dear Alice: Right you are. It’s “stopped from,” “prohibited from” and “prevented from” -- but “forbidden to.” This isn’t just a trap that English has set to catch those who don’t know better; it actually makes sense if you consider the meaning and history of “forbid.”
C. Smith, of Arcata, Calif., writes: “Some radio correspondents say ‘Ih-RAHN-ean’ and some say ‘Ih-RAIN-ean.’ Which pronunciation is right?”
Dear C.: Either of those choices is OK, according to Charles Harrington Elster, who is probably America’s foremost pronunciation expert. In a brand-new edition of his “Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations,” he writes, “I recommend i-RAHN-ee-in; an acceptable alternative is i-RAY-nee-in.”
Gabriel Chamyan, of Coconut Grove, Fla., writes: “What’s the proper use of the word ‘droll’?”
Dear Gabriel: Why, a troll is a mythical being, sometimes a friendly one, sometimes a troublemaker, who -- oh, wait a minute. You were asking about “droll.” When I started this answer, I was being droll. “Whimsical,” “odd” and “amusing” -- I hope you found that amusing! -- all appear as dictionary definitions of “droll.”
Thomas BeVier, of Traverse City, Mich., writes: “In a recent column about the expression ‘needs done,’ you wrote, ‘I seem to be one of the few people in the English-speaking universe who haven’t heard it.’ Would it be better to have written ‘... who hasn’t heard it’?”
Dear Thomas: I was hoping you’d ask! I seem to be one of not many people who have heard of the rule about this. The rule is: See what happens if you start any “one of the people who” sentence with the word “of.” If you do that with the sentence you quoted, it becomes “Of the few people ... who haven’t heard it, I seem to be one.” That’s the way the parts of the sentence fit together, conceptually and grammatically, no matter what order they’re in. If “hasn’t” were the right word, the inverted sentence would be “Of the few people in the English-speaking universe, I seem to be one who hasn’t heard it” -- but of course that’s not what I meant.
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