Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I've Done Finished

Kate from Petoskey called in a distinction that tends to divide families and friends. It’s the notion that done and finished cannot be interchangeable. The admonishing cliché is, “A roast is done; people are finished.”

This falls in the same prescriptivist bin as “never end a sentence with a preposition” and “never split an infinitive.”  People become passionate about these things, but without logical justification.

All it takes to perpetuate such language myths is one writer or one book making stern and apodictic pronouncements. In the case of done vs. finished, Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage points to MacCracken & Sandison’s 1917 Manual of Good English.

It reminds me of John Dryden and his 18th century cohorts, who were embarrassed by the “corrupt” English of their day and capriciously invented new rules and spellings to clean it up.     But even Dryden had no problem with done used to express finished: “Now the Chime of Poetry is done.” [tr. Virgil Pastorals ix]

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition 
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