Saturday, August 13, 2011

You suffer, but why?

I hope I don't have much to learn from the Grammar Girl podcast, but it does show up some interesting topics and is well worth a listen. Occasionally though, I find what I think is an error.

In podcast number 268, she refers to a listener's mother-in-law who has come to live with him "after suffering from a stroke". I think she should have said "after suffering a stroke" (without the "from").

"Suffer" is one of those words that has a both a transitive and an intransitive form, so it can take a direct object but doesn't have to. The transitive form, with the direct object, sounds a bit old-fashioned to some ears, at least most of the time. Since she used a sporting reference in that podcast, I'll use a topical sporting one myself:
"The Indian team suffered from poor preparation, and suffered a heavy defeat." (I'm sure you're all following the cricket as avidly as I am.)
In the context of her example, the mother-in-law is still suffering from the stroke, or, more accurately, suffering from the effects of the stroke. The way she phrased it, using the word "after", suggests that she was referring to the stroke as a single event.

Interestingly, "suffer" is the translation usually given to the Latin verb "patior", from which we get the word "patient". A patient is seen as someone who suffers in the sense of suffering, or allowing, things to be done to him or her. That's the sense intended by the translators of the Bible, when they had Jesus say, "Suffer the children to come unto me." We wouldn't use "suffer" in that sense today, but it does show how the language shifts.

The video, by the way, is largely irrelevant but I couldn't resist the opportunity to link to the shortest song in history: Napalm Death's 'You Suffer', which comes in at an epic 1.3 seconds.

Moral: Words change their meaning. You can suffer it without suffering too much.

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