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I've just written the sentence:

people may recognize standards that deem them unworthy

and weren't sure whether it is correct: can a standard deem you unworthy? Would it sound too odd, or merely a bit academic?

And if it does sound odd-what other verb could be used in this case (i.e. to describe a standard according to which people are considered unworthy)?

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    Try looking up deem and possibly standard in a dictionary or three. If that does not settle your question, come back and tell us what did result from that inquiry. – Brian Donovan Dec 17 '15 at 14:58
  • Thanks for the suggestion, Brian, but please do give me the credit that I already did so prior to posting. It is still impossible to guess whether metaphorical usage of verbs would sound odd or natural--there are obviously no abstract rules about it (e,g, when can cognitive faculties be attributed to abstract objects such as standards). If you have any more concrete reply regarding the case in question, please do share it, It would be much appreciated – stultissimus Dec 17 '15 at 16:02
  • I don't think so, for the same reason that standards can't think you unworthy - to deem at all requires a mental process which nothing inanimate has. I would suggest something like people may recognize standards by which they are deemed unworthy. – Anonym Dec 18 '15 at 0:19
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It's a perfectly fine metaphorical transfer of will from the people who set the standards to the standards themselves. The following is an example from a discussion of the racial classification laws that implemented American apartheid in the south for a century after the American Civil War. The topic is the so-called "one-drop rule."

This rule stated if an individual had one drop of blood in their DNA then Jim Crow deemed the said person a Negro.

Jim Crow was a set of laws implementing discrimination. There's your standard. In that time and place to be a Negro was to be unworthy of full citizenship.

  • +1 It seems like an ordinary idiomatic way of speaking. As another example, "Using measurements from this inanimate object allows a person to conclude X" is frequently shortened to "The inanimate object indicates X." – cobaltduck Jan 4 '16 at 18:23
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The "oddness" here stems from something very abstract and inanimate (a standard) doing something necessarily active (deeming). That's similar to the standard considering, believing, judging, etc.

Here are alternative options:

People may recognize standards according to which they are unworthy.

People may recognize standards under which they can be considered unworthy.

People may recognize standards that they themselves cannot satisfy.

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