Quotation and chastisement

From an e-mail comment on my death notice for James J. Kilpatrick on Language Log, in which I quoted Shakespeare’s “All that glisters is not gold” in connection with what we came to call Kilpatrick’s Rule for scoping in combinations of negation and quantification:

I’m not sure that gold actually “glisters”.

I replied:

That’s what’s in the original Shakespeare, as annoying pedants never weary of telling us (they similarly mock “once more into the breach” as a vulgar inaccuracy). Yes, the original has been reshaped (as the Henry V quote has been reshaped from “once more unto the breach”) so as to fit the more modern language; there’s a LLog posting on these reshapings (AZ, 8/1/07, “Cousin of eggcorn”, here).

“Glisters” is textually accurate; but “glitters” is entirely correct.

If I’d quoted it as “glitters”, I’d be getting mail crowing about how the learned professor doesn’t even know how to quote Shakespeare correctly.

That is, you can’t win here. Whichever version of the Merchant of Venice quote you use, someone will write to complain about it. (Note that the choice of “glisters” vs. “glitters” is entirely beside the point in the context, which is about Kilpatrick’s Rule.)

Then from my correspondent, this extraordinarily nice (and entertaining) response:

Well, it’s from Merchant of Venice, so I feel a little better; had it been The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’d *really* be embarrassed… At least I begin the day slightly more knowledgeable than I was.

Thank you for the extremely gentle chastisement -professorial chastisement being some of the best, superior to bookstore-clerk and just below librarian.

Ah, professorial chastisement. Maybe I could put that on my vita as one of my special skills.


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