Up With Which
There are many variations on a quotation often attributed to Winston Churchill that I first read as follows:
This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.
The apocryphal quotation is said to have been Churchill’s response to an editor’s correction of one of his sentences to keep it from ending with a preposition.
The old rule dictating that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition comes to us in English on the basis not of any inherent sense but rather on the basis of the Latin words that make up the word “preposition” — “pre” meaning “before” and “position” meaning, well, “position.” Very literal-minded grammarians a few hundred years ago decided that a part of speech whose name means that it must go before something surely can’t go at the end of a sentence, where there is no other word for it to precede. Most of the grammar and usage books I’ve read in recent years have conceded that the rule is stupid and that we need not worry ourselves over it too much, especially in cases in which shifting the preposition around makes a sentence awkward.
Before we charge ahead, let’s back up for a moment and review what prepositions are. They’re words like:
I vividly remember learning in grade school that prepositions are words that describe where a chicken might go.
The quotation attributed to Churchill is funny, then, because he’s twisting a big knot in his sentence to avoid ending it with the word “with” for precisely the purpose of showing the pedantic editor how silly such rearrangement can be. Rewritten as most of us would write the sentence, it would go something like this:
This is the type of arrant pedantry I will not put up with.
It turns out that there’s actually something else going on here, though. “Put up with” is what’s called a “phrasal verb” — a verb phrase that includes more than one word and in which the auxiliary word is very often a preposition acting as an “adverbial particle.” In other words, although structurally, the words “up” and “with” here are prepositions, functionally they’re adverbs modifying the verb “put” and thus don’t really need to follow the old rule (even for those who insist on trying to follow it).
We use these all the time. Some examples:
- blow up
- come by (as in “he comes by it honestly”)
- deal with
- decide on
- dry out
- get on with
- hurry up
Imagine leaning over to a friend during the long-winded introduction of a speaker you’re eager to hear and whispering “I wish on with it he would get.”
Generally, mangling your sentences to follow the preposition rule isn’t the best idea — it surely doesn’t result in the clearest sentences — and in the case of phrasal verbs, it’s not just a little absurd, but it’s actually not even called for.
* A reader pointed out to me in the comments that these are not in fact prepositions. I should think my grammar through more carefully before tossing out examples willy nilly.