-1

My question is perhaps more subjective than objective, although there are traces of objectivity in it. Hope I express myself clearly.

In a recently published Stephen Budiansky's biography of Kurt Gödel, Journey to the Edge of Reason, the author writes:

Morgenstern was always touched by Gödel's solicitous concern for his family, and the hours he would generously spend talking to and encouraging Morgenstern's son Carl in his interest in mathematics as a high school and college student, ...

As a nonnative student of English, I see a number of problems with this (long) sentence. I am particularly interested in knowing if native speakers of English also see such issues:

  1. When I look up solicitous in the Oxford dictionary, it shows: "characterized by or showing interest or concern". Isn't then "solicitous concern" a redundancy? A standard remark I have sometimes heard is "you understand it in the context", but that is less than satisfactory because it appears that the author could have used "demeanor" or "behavior" just as effectively (and less redundantly).

  2. Whose family does Gödel have a concern for? Gödel's own, or Morgenstern's? In a lower (or even higher) English language class, I'd have been instructed, for clarity, to rephrase the sentence like "Morgenstern was always touched by Gödel's solicitous concern for Morgenstern's family ...". But not here. Why? Is it because we need to know the rules like a pro in order to break them like an artist? Is this all just "a matter of style"?

  3. I read in Warriner's book on English grammar and composition that when referring to a subject of study its name should be capitalized, e.g. Mathematics, Physics, English. Am I misinterpreting this rule or has an editorial gaffe been committed in the above sentence?

4
  • I think using solicitous concern is a gentle reminder to us of the meaning of solicitous. More importantly using a synonym nearby can have the effect of emphasis rather than redundancy. I do agree with you on #2. I did think he meant Godel's own family.
    – Elliot
    Jun 23 at 3:25
  • What you're really talking about here is a matter of style, which is a matter of opinion, and requires open-ended discussion that does not suit the format of EL&U. This question might be better considered at Writers.SE.
    – Robusto
    Jun 23 at 4:34
  • This question belongs on another site in the Stack Exchange network, where general writing and style advice is on-topic. Writing.SE? Jun 23 at 9:40
  • Either Warriner is wrong or you're misinterpreting it. Mathematics as a specific course is sometimes capitalised, e.g. in giving the name of a university course, an exam or a qualification, although there's often no requirement to do so. When talking about mathematics as a science or an area of knowledge, as here, it isn't capitalised (consult a good dictionary).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 23 at 10:13

1 Answer 1

0

I can offer some interpretations of the editing style that address your questions, though not definitive answers from a style guide:

  1. Without "solicitous," it's potentially ambiguous what quality Morgenstern found touching about Gödel's concern, but the adjective clarifies it was the magnitude of concern that was notable. Substituting "concern" with "demeanor" or "behaviour" may be more efficient, but they are abstractions of a particular behaviour (concern), thus dilute the expression (George Orwell advocates for particularization over abstraction in Politics and the English Language for similar reasons).
  2. As a native English speaker, I too sensed "his family" was ambiguous at first, but since it's disambiguated with an example later in the same sentence (Gödel had concern for Morgenstern's son Carl), an average reader might only be confused for a second or two. Perhaps the editors preferred anaphora (replacing a second instance of "Morgenstern" with "his" to avoid tedious repetition) rather than exhaustive clarity for those two seconds of ambiguity.
  3. I wouldn't call it an "editorial gaffe," as the intended meaning is perfectly clear. From observing standard usage, e.g. in this Encyclopedia Britannica article on Richard Feynman (the first example that came to mind), his field of study (Physics) is sometimes capitalized, and sometimes not. I imagine different publishers care to varying degrees, so we shouldn't expect all sources to follow Warriner's style guide out of all others, as all style guides are subjective, and also specific to their domains.
3
  • This is helpful. I didn't know of "anaphora". But, in any case, I thought that using "Morgenstern's" first (to refer to family) and "his" (to refer to Carl) later would have been clearer. Also, in your response to 1) (thanks for the link to the essay, BTW) is the preposition "for" needed for advocate? Isn't it simply "Orwell advocates ..." and not "Orwell advocates for ..."? "Solicitous concern" (even when we assume that it is for emphasis and hence not redundant) can be perhaps replaced by solicitude? Jun 23 at 4:36
  • I don't remember English, as a subject of study, being written "english" in print. But mathematics is perhaps acceptable even in print. What makes one acceptable and other less so? Jun 23 at 4:41
  • @KedarMhaswade - This might be a valid question for ELL. I encourage you to look around there. Jun 24 at 2:59

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.