向英语学习者讲话 | Logic and Usage 逻辑和惯用法

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Logic and Usage
逻辑和惯用法

What do you think is the real meaning of the often quoted line from Shakespeare1 “All that glisters is not gold”?2 The strict sense would be that glistering proves a substance to be not gold. But the real sense is that glistering does not necessarily3 prove a substance to be gold. In other words, the proverb should, logically speaking4, be “Not all that glisters is gold”.
时常被人引用的莎士比亚诗句“All that glisters is not gold”是什么意思?严格的意思可能是“闪耀证明一个物质不是金子”。可是真实的意思是“闪耀未必证明一个物质是金子”。换句话说,按照逻辑,这个谚语应该改成“Not all that glisters is gold”。

But Shakespeare wrote in the illogical way, and this illogical construction is not now uncommon. For example, if you hear an Englishman say “All my friends do not know the Han language”, you must not understand him to mean that all his friends are ignorant of 5 Han. He may very well imply that most of his friends can speak and write it very well.
可是莎士比亚写得不合逻辑,而这个不合逻辑的结构现在也普遍存在。举例来说,假使你听到一个英国人说“All my friends do not know the Han language”,你一定不能认为他在说他的朋友们都不懂汉语。他很可能在暗示他的大多数朋友讲和写汉语都很好。

This is indeed illogical. There are Englishmen who do not use this construction and fall foul of6 those who do7, Probably it will pass away in time8, for logic has time on its side9. But it is natural and idiomatic English today, and I think every learner of English should know it.
这个确实是不合逻辑的。也有英国人不用这个结构而且很不赞成用这个结构。这个结构将来总会消失,因为时间久了逻辑必将胜利。可是今天它是自然而合于习语的英语,我认为每个英语学习者都应该知道它。

There are a number of other illogicalities in English that are quite idiomatic. Please read the first sentence of the second paragraph of this article again. Perhaps you will think that “is not now uncommon” is not so good as “is now not uncommon” would be. According to logic, indeed, “not” ought to modify “uncommon” instead of “now”. But according to idiom “is not now uncommon” is more usual.
英语中还有不少别的不合逻辑却完全合于习语的东西。请再读一遍本文第二段第一句(“…and this illogical construction is not now uncommon.”)。也许你会认为“is not now uncommon”不及“is now not uncommon”好。依照逻辑,“not”的确该是修饰“uncommon”而不是修饰“now”。但是依照习语,“is not now uncommon”比较普遍。

With the word “only”, illogical and idiomatic constructions are also common. An Englishman may say “I only arrived a few days ago”, when he means that he arrived only a few days ago.
关于“only”这个词,不合于逻辑而合于习语的结构也是普遍的。一个英国人可能说:“I only arrived a few days ago”,而他的意思其实是他“arrived only a few days ago”。

As I have said, logic has time on its side. But how many years the English language will take to become a perfectly logical speech10!
正像我刚才说过的,逻辑日后必将胜利。可是英语要经过多少年才能成为一种完全合于逻辑的语言啊!

NOTES

  1. Shakespeare 指William Shakespeare (1564 —1616)莎士比亚,英国剧作家和诗人
  2. “All that glisters is not gold” 一切闪光的东西不都是金子
  3. does not necessarily 未必;不一定
  4. logically speaking 按照逻辑讲
  5. ignorant of the Han language 不懂汉语
  6. fall foul of … 与……争吵
  7. do=use this construction
  8. will pass away in time 将来总须消灭
  9. has time on its side 有时间为它支持;日后它必将胜利
  10. But how many years the English language will take to become a perfectly logical speech! 但英语要经过多少年才能成为一种完全合于逻辑的语言!

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