Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lesser Calculus Controversy

In honor of Leibniz’ first use of the big “S” in integral calculus (as seen above and reported in the Jewish World Review to have occurred on this date 335 years ago), I’d like to settle this controversy once and for all.

Which of these statements is correct? 
I can’t go to prom, I have the calculus homework.

I can’t go to the prom, I have calculus homework.

Never mind that your high school dances were decades ago and your use of higher math completely forgotten, or even that both statements scream that you’re a serious geek and a very bad planner if math homework prevents you from attending the big night. It’s simply a matter of correct usage at this point, and has always bothered me.

While prom is short for the noun, promenade, meaning a ball or dance, it seems to be used in the first sentence as an infinitive form of the verb.  If it were the object of the preposition, it would require the definite article the before prom. Wouldn’t it?

And how about that calculus?  I read that it is called “the” calculus because it is shortened from the calculus of infinitesimals, but isn’t it simply a field of mathematical study? Like Algebra, or geometry.

I’m just curious.


Aaron said...

Obviously you're losing sight of the big picture in this grammar worry - i.e. whether a semicolon should be used in place of the comma!

Lynne said...

You are so right! But; if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my indiscriminate use of commas and semicolons (and parenthesis) is basically beyond help.

Kelly Elmore said...

I say that prom and calculus have become nouns that do not take articles. In America, we go to college, but we go to the university. In Britain, they go to university. I submit that calculus has long been a non-article noun, but that prom has been in the process of changing. Both sound ok to me. We go to prom. Or we go to the prom. Strikes me that younger people say the first.

What do you think?

Lynne said...

I think your analysis is good and your example is terrific. This does not change the fact that I HATE the use of prom without an article! It sounds like fingers on a chalkboard to me. (Could be that I'm just that old.) The calculus, however, just cracks me up.