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ETpro's avatar

How could this saying be reworded for better clarity?

Asked by ETpro (34469points) October 29th, 2010

Donald Foster wrote, “No one who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes deserves to be called a scholar.” Do you agree? If so, perhaps we could help develop a bit clearer sentence structure for the thought. After all, Foster was just a Professor of English at Vassar. He may not have been the greatest scholar of English syntax.

The way the two negatives are handled in the quote seems clumsy to me. How would you help Prof. Foster reword the quote to better capture his meaning? Or is the meaning not apparent to you?

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25 Answers

crazyivan's avatar

As soon as I read it my nose turned up. Great thought, though. I think I would go with something like:

“A person unwilling to rejoice in the discovery of their own mistakes is unfit to be a scholar.”

DrBill's avatar

A person cannot claim intelligence if they cannot admit to their own mistakes.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Rejoice in your first discovery of your mistake; you just learned something.

You’re a dumbass if you did it again.

JilltheTooth's avatar

After all, Foster was just a Professor of English at Vassar.” Just out of curiosity, as opposed to what?
I actually have no problems with the phraseology, I think his doubly negatived cool turn of phrase of mine, eh? :-) wording emphasizes his point and gives it a bit more punch.

Cruiser's avatar

I agree with @JilltheTooth as in the way it is constructed IMO, is quite eloquent and impactful!

crisw's avatar

I agree with the statement.

And it is perhaps slightly clearer to state ”“Anyone who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes does not deserve to be called a scholar.””

gailcalled's avatar

If you use a singular subject (no one, a person, anyone) you must then make the rest of the sentence agree in number, no matter how awkward.

Thus, “no one can rejoice….of his own mistakes” (never “their”).

I find the sentence elegant and very clear.

One who can rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes does not deserve to be called a scholar. That is pedestrian.

crazyivan's avatar

Well, it also means the opposite of the original saying…

It is slowly becoming proper English to use their as a singular, nongender specific pronoun. Many resources already list it as acceptable.

gailcalled's avatar

It is certainly being used and it is considered acceptable in many sites, but if you want to emulate David F. Wallace, stick with the formal usage.

Kayak8's avatar

If you did bad and you caught that you did bad, you did good!

Jeruba's avatar

The editor in me has no urge to reword this statement. I’m sure Prof. Foster gave it adequate thought before he chose this wording, which is in my estimation more precise and effective than the suggested alternatives.

And I do agree with the sentiment. Anyone who chooses to be blind to his errors or defend against them without considering the evidence is a dogmatist and not a scholar.

ETpro's avatar

@crazyivan That was my initial reaction as well. I agree with the thought of it, but wanted better wording for the idea. I like your idea of turning it into a positive, but @Jeruba may be right that using the negation is stronger.

@DrBill Maybe “A person cannot should not claim…” Quite clearly someone claiming wrongly can claim pretty much whatever they please wrongly.

@CyanoticWasp I like that. It’s strong, direct, and doesn’t leave me puzzling over the double negation.

@JilltheTooth “As opposed to what?” Nothing. Dr. Foster’s point was that none are above criticism or should hold themselves immune to a flow of fresh ideas. So in asking, I am not calling him incompetent at developing or explaining ideas, I am simply flowing his advice. I take your point on the double negative. It is specifically used as an emphasis of negation in some other languages and is carefully crafted in his quote in such a way that the second negative does not negate the first. Still, I like some of the positive approaches better.

@gailcalled Ha! I think the re-crafting to demonstrate the pedestrian nature of the singular is also missing one negative, which reverses its intended meaning interestingly enough.

@Kayak8 That boils it down to terms even the text-speak generation would understand.

ratboy's avatar

Shakespeare’s works were composed by Bacon. Go fuck yourselves.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@ETpro : The fact that you designated him as ”just a Professor of English at Vassar.”, was my ”as opposed to what?” question. As if being a a professor at Vassar was somehow inferior to some other kind of person.

gailcalled's avatar

@ETpro: Ooh, I outsmarted myself.

One who can rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes does not deserve to be called a scholar. That is pedestrian.

I meant well but got distracted. (Or, if you will, I can blame it on Milo.)

@ratboy: “The works” (of anyone) are always in the plural and could have been composed by anyone. What’s your point?

Blondesjon's avatar

@gailcalled . . . Vihaan sitä, kun olet aivan oikea.

gailcalled's avatar

@BlondesjonSinulla on palannut. Olen onnellinen.

Blondesjon's avatar

Voit aiheuttaa minulle punastua.

Jeruba's avatar

@gailcalled, I think perhaps you meant it this way:

One who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes does not deserve to be called a scholar.

Otherwise it says that rejoicing in having their errors pointed out is all it takes to qualify as scholars. Plenty of people who do welcome having errors exposed are not scholars at all.

janbb's avatar

If you don’t enjoy discovering your own mistakes, you do not deserve to call yourself a scholar.

gailcalled's avatar

@Jeruba: I no longer am sure of what I mean. Luckily, Milo starts his shift here soon, and I can go to bed.

ETpro's avatar

@JilltheToothI meant that as tongue-in-cheek humor to goad the collective into trying to outdo such an illustrious writer at his own game. I most certainly did not intend to disparage his achievement at having been a professor of English at Vassar.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@ETpro : Oh, OK. I’ll just climb off my high dudgeon now…ow. fell off.

mattbrowne's avatar

Success is 99% failure.—Sochiro Honda

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