Monday, May 04, 2015

You graduate; you don't graduate your school.

For some time now I've been getting periodic email updates from a blog called "Law Prose" from Bryan Garner, who seeks to improve lawyers' use of language. Being a usage scold (right now I'm riled up over apostrophe abuse in some documents I've been reading) I always peruse Garner's posts, so far always with appreciation. Most of them are on matters relating to the drafting of legal papers, but his most recent one is on a more general pet peeve of mine. I cringe whenever I read or hear something like "John Doe graduated Princeton in 1995." No, no, no. John did not "graduate Princeton"; he graduated from Princeton.

Garner tells us that the original syntax, dating from the fifteenth century, was in the form "Christ College Cambridge graduated John" or, "more commonly," he writes, "John was graduated from Christ College Cambridge." This makes sense; the school graduates the student, not the opposite. In the nineteenth century, though, the "was" began to be dropped from the latter construction, thus going from the passive to the active voice and making "graduate" an ergative verb. (Hey, you learn something every day!) So it became "John graduated from Princeton." It's clear from this construction that John did nothing to Princeton (apart from receiving a diploma from it and, perhaps, leaving).

But then, Garner notes with sorrow, sometime in the mid twentieth century it became common to drop the "from," leaving "Jane graduated Yale," or the like. As he writes: "Although this wording is becoming increasingly common, it is best avoided." He continues:
As the Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh puts it, “When I hear ‘I graduated college,’ I want to answer ‘No, you didn’t.’ . . . [Y]ou call your education into question if you omit the from.”