Monthly Archives: October 2005

Life, Liberty, Property

I’ve just joined the Life, Liberty, Property Community at TTLB, which is a group of 87 blogs—now 88 blogs—that share a belief that the purpose of government is to protect our inherent rights, identified by John Locke as the rights to Life, Liberty, and Property. Note their link button in the right-hand bar.

Welcome, by the way, to anyone who’s dropping by thanks to Eric’s New Member announcement for me. Check out some of my “Best Of” links in the left-hand bar to see the sorts of things I write about. (Eric spells my name wrong in the announcement—it’s Draughn, pronounced just like drawn—but that’s okay, I’m used to it. Besides, I couldn’t spell his last name either.)

I’m hoping that joining this community will help me find other bloggers with similar interests, will lead to new ideas for articles, and will maybe draw a little more traffic my way. For my part, I need to start contributing regularly to keep the community’s stats up and to help draw more attention to it.

More on Restrictive Clauses

Continuing Ken Lammers’ concerns with how to distinguish restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, I have a little bit to add to what I said earlier.

I’ve checked several more writing handbooks, including the Harbrace College Handbook, the Little, Brown Handbook, the St. Martin’s Handbook, and The Careful Writer. (My editions are not as current as those to which I’ve linked.) All agree to a preference for using which to introduce only non-restrictive clauses, with the degree of preference ranging from “better” to “usually” to “some writers prefer,” but none of the handbooks is as firm as the Strunk and Whiteexcerpts I quoted earlier, and certainly none of them set forth an absolute rule.

The Careful Writer has this interesting note:

There are writers who have the notion that the relative that is colloquial[…],whereas the relative which is literary. That is a mistaken idea. Jespersen has put his finger on one cause of the error: “Who and which reminded scholars of the Latin pronouns and came to be looked upon as more refined or dignified than the more popular that.” To this day there are those who seem to feel that which is more stately.

I imagine the writers of Virginia’s statutes prefered the stately and Latinate which to the common that.

On the other hand, all these handbooks (and the Chicago Manual of Style) agree that non-restrictive clauses are always set off by commas.

in Writing

The Pain of Taxation

I just sent $865.96 of my hard-earned money to the United States Government. Then I sent $246.60 to the State of Illinois. I feel pretty stupid about it, but it has to be done. In fact, it has to be done several times a year.

I incorporated my software consulting business a few years ago, so I have to pay my own payroll taxes. It works like this: I do the work. People pay me with checks I deposit in the corporate bank account. Every now and then, I want to move some of that money from the corporate bank account to my personal bank account. I track both accounts on my computer using Intuit’s Quicken and Quickbooks software, and both accounts are at the same bank. But when I want to move money from one account to the other, I have to send some of my money to the government.

When you work an ordinary job, all this happens behind the scenes. You get your paycheck and you see that some money has been taken out, withholding it’s called, but there’s still plenty of money for you. It’s relatively painless.

But when you run an incorporated business, you see behind the scenes. That money that gets taken out of the paycheck? I have to do that myself. I issue myself paychecks, with deductions for federal and state income tax withholding and for social security and medicare (sometimes called FICA).

There are also amounts the employer has to pay but which aren’t taken out of the paycheck. First, there’s social security and medicare, where the employer has to match what the employee had to pay. This means the government gets twice what you see on your paycheck for these items. Then—and this just kills me—there’s unemployment insurance. That’s right, I had to set aside $206.52 for unemployment insurance in case I decide to lay myself off.

Then comes the hard part. I have to take all that money and send it to the government.

It hurts. It hurts a lot.

Restricting Clause

Ken Lammers needs an English language expert for an appeal he’s writing. The argument is about the meaning of a statute, so I imagine this problem could have been avoided if the Virginia legislature had worded their law a little more carefully. Instead, someone’s freedom may depend on how restrictive clauses are supposed to be introduced in sentences.

Update: I did a little research.

An excerpt from the “Misused Words and Expressions” chapter of Strunk and White:

That. Which. That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive. See Rule 3.

The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)

Ths use of which for that is common in written and spoken language (“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.”) Occasionally which seems preferable to that, as in the sentence from the Bible. But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision.

So it looks like Strunk and White agree with the judge as a preference, but acknowledge that actual usage is less precise. Note the presence of commas. There is more about this in Strunk and White‘s Rule 3:

3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.


Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic, as are similar clauses introduced by conjunctions indicating time or place. Commas are therefore needed. A non-restrictive clause is one that does not serve to identify the defining antecedent noun.

The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.

In 1769, when Napolleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.

In these sentences, the clauses introduced by which, when, and where are nonrestrictive; they do not limit or define, the merely add something. In the first example, the clause introduced by which does not serve to tell which of several possible audiences is meant; the reader presumably knows that already. The clause adds, parenthetically, a statement supplementing that in the main clause. Each of the three sentences is a combination of two statements that might have been made independently.

The audience was at first indifferent. Later it became more and more interested.

Napoleon was born in 1769. At the time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.

Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Nether Stowey. Nether Stowey is a few miles from Bridgewater.

Restrictive clauses, by contrast, are not parenthetic and are not set off by commas. Thus,

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Here the clause introduce by who does serve to tell which people are meant; the sentence, unlike the sentences above, cannot be split into two independent statements.

So, although there is a rule regarding the use of that and which, the rule is not as firm as the use of commas to set off the nonrestrictive clause. I would say that the use of commas is definitive. Actually, the definitive test is whether the sentence can be split into two independent sentences, but I think that’s what Lammers is trying to prove: That the statute’s language does not allow for the sentence to be split, as evidenced by the use of punctuation and relative pronouns.

If I had to make this argument, I would argue that the commas are the definitive indicator, and that which is sometimes used to introduce restrictive clauses in flowery language such as the Bible or, presumably, statutes. Since Strunk and White is practically the catechism of modern English writing style, my argument would probably convince an English teacher, but I don’t know if it will help with a judge.

in Writing