Q. According to CMOS, what is the correct way of stating the following: “I often wish” or “I wish often?”
Q. Which formation is more correct, “the information requested” or “the requested information”?Questions like this to the online Q&A at the Chicago Manual of Style used to get me riled. What is behind this mania for “correctness”? This belief that there is but a single correct way to write something? I could only conclude that the writers had been traumatized by teachers whose rules were endless, iron-clad, and in large part imaginary. Brutes who would pen an angry F on any paper containing a sentence with more than eleven words in it and ban this blog for its sentence fragments.
But at some point it occurred to me that English might be the writers’ second language. In that light, instead of ignorant or annoying, such questions reveal themselves to be sophisticated and subtle and (quite frankly) beyond my ability to answer them properly. Issues like the placement of adjectives and adverbs are cruelly difficult to justify in English. How would we ever learn to say “six big red apples” instead of “big red six apples,” if we didn’t pick it up by ear as tots?
Not being a linguist or grammar expert (in case you had any illusions about that), I browsed online and learned something: It seems that linguists have long studied sequencing, but they continue to be challenged by its intricacies. Although word order is determined by categories (e.g., size, then shape, then color), attempts at mapping the categories have yet to accurately predict actual usage beyond the basics.*
If native speakers of English can be paralyzed by choices like those in the questions above, I can well imagine the difficulties faced by those still learning. Seeking that level of refinement and, yes, “correctness,” in another language is only to be admired.
*For an example of recent research, see Robert Truswell, “Attributive Adjectives and Nominal Templates,” Linguistic Inquiry 40, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 525–33.