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My next instance shall be in the conjunctions : “ They were both much more ancient among the Per“ sians than Zoroaster or Zerdusht *.” The or here is equivocal. It serves either as a copulative to synonymous words, or as a disjunctive of different things. If, therefore, the reader should not know that Zoroaster and Zerdusht mean the same person, he will mistake the sense.
In coupling appellatives, there is not the same hazard, it being generally manifest to those who know the language, whether the words coupled have the same signification. If, nevertheless, in any case it should be doubtful, an attention to the ensuing rules may have its utility. If the first noun fol. lows an article, or a preposition, or both, the article or the preposition, or both, should be repeated before the second, when the two nouns are intended to denote different things; and should not be repeated, when they are intended to denote the same thing. If there be neither article nor preposition before the first, and if it be the intention of the writer to use the particle or disjunctively, let the first noun be preceded by either, which will infallibly ascertain the meaning. On the contrary, if, in such a dubious case, it be his design to use the particle as a copulative to synonymous words, the piece will rarely sustain a material injury, by his omitting both the conjunction and the synonymo.
* Bol. Subst of Letters to Mr de Pouilly.
The double meaning....Part I. Equivocation.
The following is an example in the pronouns : “ She united the great body of the people in her and “ their common interest *.” The word ber may be either the possessive pronoun, or the accusative case of the personal pronoun. A very small alteration in the order totally removes the doubt. Say " in their and 6 her common interest." The word her thus connected, can be only the possessive, as the author doubtless intended it should be, in the passage quoted.
An example in substantives : “ Your majesty has “ last all hopes of any future excises by their consump“ tion f.” The word consumption has both an active sense and a passive. It means either the act of consuming, or the state of being consumed. Clearly thus : “ Your majesty has lost all hopes of levying any
future excises on what they shall consume."
In adjectives : “ As for such animals as are mortal or
noxious, we have a right to destroy them I.” Here the false sense is suggested more readily than the true. The word mortal, therefore, in this sentence, might justly be considered as improper; for though it sometimes means destructive, or causing death, it is then almost invariably joined with some noun expressive of hurt or danger. Thus we say, a mortal poisoni, a mortal wound, a mortal disease, or a mortal enemy;
* Idea of a Patriot King. + Guardian, No. 52. 1 lb. No. 61,
· but the phrases mortal creature, mortal animal, or mor
tal man, are always understood to imply creature, animal, or man, liable to death.
In verbs : “ The next refuge was to say, it was " overlooked by one man, and many passages wholly “ written by another f.” The word overlooked sometimes signifies revised, and sometimes neglected. As it seems to be in the former sense that this participle is used here, the word revised ought to have been preferred. Another instance in verbs: “ I have fur
nished the house exactly according to your fancy,
or, if you please, my own ; for I have long since “ learnt to like nothing but what you do g." The word do in this passage may be either the auxiliary, or, as it might be termed, the supplementary verb, and be intended only to supersede the repetition of the verb like ; or it may be the simple active verb, which answers to the Latin facere, and the French faire.
In the next quotation the homonymous term may be either an adjective or an adverb, and admits a different sense in each acceptation :
Not only Jesuits can equivocate *.
If the word only is here an adverb, the sense is, “ To
† Spect. No. 19.
Ibid. No. 627. * Dryden's Hind and Panther.
The double meaning...Part I. Equivocation.
equivocate is not the only thing that Jesuits can do." This interpretation, though not the author's meaning, suits the construction much better. A very small alteration in the order gives a proper and unequivocal, though a prosaic expression of this sense : “ Jesuits can “ not only equivocate.” »Again, if the word only is here an adjective (and this doubtless is the author's intention), the sense is, “ Jesuits are not the only per" sons who can equivocate.” But this interpretation suits ill the composition of the sentence.
nce. The only other instance of this error in single words I shall
produce, is one in which, on the first glance, there appears room to doubt whether a particular term ought to be understood literally or metaphorically. The word handled in the following passage will illustrate what I mean : “ Thus much I thought fit to premise, “ before I resume the subject, which I have already
bandled, I mean the naked bosoms of our British “ ladies *." Sometimes, indeed, a thing like this may be said archly and of design, in which case it falls not under this animadversion.
It was remarked above, that there are not only equivocal words in our language, but equivocal phrases. Not the least, and not the smallest, are of this kind. They are sometimes made to imply not any ; as though one should say, not even the least, not so much as the smallest ; and sometimes again to signify a very great,
* Guardian, No. 116.
as though it were expressed in this manner, far from being the least or smallest. Thus they are susceptible of two significations that are not only different, but contrary. We have an instance in the following passage : “ Your character of universal guardian, joined “ to the concern you ought to have for the cause of “ virtue and religion, assure me, you will not think " that clergymen, when injured, have the least right
to your protection †.” This sentence hath also the disadvantage taken notice of in some of the preceding quotations, that the sense not intended by the writer occurs to the reader much more readily than the author's real meaning. Nothing less than is another phrase which, like the two former, is susceptible of opposite interpretations. Thus, “ He aimed at nothing " less than the crown,” may denote either, “ Nothing
was less aimed at by him than the crown;" or,
Nothing inferior to the crown could satisfy his am“ bition.” All such phrases ought to be totally laid aside. The expression will have mercy is equivocal in the following passage of the vulgar translation of the Bible : “ I will have mercy, and not sacrifice *." The expression commonly denotes, " I will exercise “ mercy;" whereas it is in this place employed to signify “ I require others to exercise it.” The sentiment, therefore, ought to have been rendered here, as we find it expressed in the prophetical book alluded to, “I desire mercy and not 'sacrifice t." When the
# Guardian, No. 80.
* Matt. ix. 13. + Hos. vi. 6.