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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.”

The verb “forbid” is related to “bid” in its old-fashioned sense of “ask” -- as in this line by the 17th-century poet Robert Herrick: “Bid me to weep, and I will weep.” The negative of that would be “Forbid me to weep, and I won’t weep.” Someone you forbid to do something has, of course, been “forbidden to” do it -- not “forbidden from” doing it.

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.”

All the same, on the radio stations I listen to, plenty of people go wrong by pronouncing “Iranian” in other ways. “I-RAN-ee-in” isn’t generally recognized as correct, as Elster points out. And any pronunciation in which the first syllable sounds like “eye” makes both me and Elster wince. By the way, we also have this reaction to the pronunciation “eye-RAK” for “Iraq.” This country’s name is properly pronounced “i-RAHK” or “i-RAK.”

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.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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