Letter: Wherefore art thou so sad?

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The Independent Online
Wherefore art thou so sad?

Sir: What a sad old fuddy-duddy Walter Roberts is. ("Grammarians weep! The bell tolls for `whom' ", 14 June). Language is constantly changing, and the role of the grammarian is to describe language as it is used, not to prescribe.

The only time to complain is when the loss of words leads to a loss of precision, and this has being going on since well before Mr Roberts was born. For example, we have lost the distinction between "why" and "wherefore". "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" means something different to "Why art thou Romeo?". "Wherefore" implies that the fate of the star-crossed lovers was pre-ordained for some unknown purpose, but the use of that word, essential to our understanding of the story, declined long ago.

The writer is also wrong when he claims that "toe rag" derives from "Tuareg". The Concise Oxford Dictionary states that it derives from the practice of tramps wrapping their feet in rags in place of socks - a toe rag is a tramp. First take the beam out of thine own eye, Mr Roberts.


Knowsley, Merseyside