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January 14th, 2009

Raised or risen? / squashed and quashed

by Barbara Wallraff

Julia Fogarty, of Wayne, Mich., writes: “My grammar book says, ‘The river has raised seven inches,’ with ‘seven inches’ being a direct object, I suppose. Shouldn’t it be ‘The river has risen seven inches,’ with no direct object? What is ‘seven inches’?"

Dear Julia: Take another look at that grammar book, please, and if it really gives that sentence as a correct example of something, throw it out. Don’t give it away, so it will misinform someone else -- throw it in the trash.

You’re absolutely right that the correct version is “The river has risen seven inches.” According to the Gospel of John, Jesus raised Lazarus (direct object) from the dead. But what the river raised was itself, and it did so in the amount of seven inches. “Seven inches” is being used as an adverb of amount, modifying the verb “has risen.” If you don’t see why, consider how similar the meaning is to “The river has risen considerably.” The “-ly” ending is a dead giveaway that “considerably” is an adverb, and “seven inches” is doing the same job.

You wouldn’t imagine this should be an especially tricky point of grammar, would you? But dictionaries don’t specify that “inch” can be an adverb, or part of an adverbial phrase. So they will only confuse you in this case. Grammar guides may too -- obviously. Researching your question online, I didn’t find any sources that straightforwardly answered it -- though I did come across one guide that declared “very” to be grammatically incorrect in “She is a very beautiful woman.” No, that’s fine, thank you. Good grief! Julia, you were wise to doubt grammar advice that didn’t make sense to you.

Richard McMahan, of Glenville, N.Y., writes: “Someone wrote that a prophet was ‘squashed’ by the authorities. A critic asserted that the word should be ‘quashed.’ The writer countered that ‘squashed’ is most appropriately applied to things, including people, whereas ‘quash’ is appropriately applied to ideas, positions, laws, etc., and the point of the essay was that the prophet’s ideas had not been suppressed or silenced. What say you?”

Dear Richard: To give you a definitive answer, I think I’d need to know exactly what happened to that unlucky prophet. When “squashed” is applied to things, it tends to mean physical crushing. For instance, a Nebraska TV station’s Web site recently reported that “A mangled Chevrolet Cavalier was squashed under the semi trailer at Interstate 80 and the South Expressway,” in Omaha. I certainly hope the authorities didn’t crush the prophet to death! However, I also found many examples in the news of “squashed” applied to abstractions, such as rumors. I agree with your critic that the better word in most of these cases would have been “quashed.”

To “quash,” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is to “reject or void, esp. by legal procedure” or to “put an end to; suppress: ‘a hospital executive quashed rumors that nursing staff will lose jobs.’” Neither of those sounds quite right for what happened to a prophet whose ideas live on. This makes me suspect that the word should be something else entirely: “banned” or “confined” or “detained” or “punished” or “restrained” or “stifled”? What did happen to that prophet?

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

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