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"Nor" or "Or"?

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"Nor" or "Or"?

Postby Cord Phaeton » Sat May 21, 2005 12:42 pm

Hi All,

Here are three lines from a screenplay that I'm writing (two of screen direction and one of dialogue).

1) This window won’t budge nor break from the chair either.

2) Now the corridor door won’t open, and neither as it happens will the communicating door to the next-door room, nor the transom above the corridor door, try as Frank and Jean might.

3) "And Father Kadzinski ... not infamous nor on his second nor third life ... merely a cannibal serial-killer priest!"

Now, I'm probably just too close to the material, but I can't tell if my use of "nor" in these sentences is correct, especially in #3. Can anyone please help?
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Postby Brazilian dude » Sat May 21, 2005 3:13 pm

Some people may see a double negative there and regard you as a sloppy speaker (or writer), so I would say or is better, but there are numerous cases in literature that have so called "double" negatives used by the most renowned writers. The notion that double negatives cancel each other out is false, a double negative just makes a negative stronger. Romance and Slavic languages have never had any trouble with that (some Italian purist objects to it, oddly enough though). The claim that it didn't exist in Latin is true, but that doesn't exclude it from existing in other languages derived from Latin (in the case of Romance languages, to be more precise) since modern Romance languages have a lot of features that were absent in Latin, like the use of prepositions, for example.

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Postby Cord Phaeton » Sat May 21, 2005 6:33 pm

Thank you, Brazilian Dude. A very fascinating reply.

CP
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Postby tcward » Sat May 21, 2005 8:30 pm

The stage directions are the only ones where you should worry about your grammar. I hope you've written the dialog to be consistent with the character, in which case you should be writing what the character would have said, regardless of the correctness of the grammar.

That is to say:

#1 should read:
This window won't budge or break from the chair either.
(Which, by the way, I'm not sure what that ending prepositional phrase means...)

#2 appears to be correct, at least from this cursory glance.

#3 is written as the character would speak, right?

-Tim
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Postby Cord Phaeton » Sat May 21, 2005 9:36 pm

Thanks, Tim, for your reply.

Yes, # 1 does feel better with "or" (and I think the prepositional phrase would make sense in context).

#2 I had a feeling was correct, so I'm glad to have it confirmed.

#3, the character's grammer is supposed to be correct.

Cheers...
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Postby Apoclima » Sat May 21, 2005 11:03 pm

'Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination.' -Max Planck
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Postby Cord Phaeton » Sat May 21, 2005 11:16 pm

Thanks, Apoclima. So I guess all my nor's should be or's, to avoid the double negative. Except perhaps the one in #2, which is preceded by a "neither."

Much obliged.
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Postby Apoclima » Sun May 22, 2005 3:00 am

1) This window won’t budge nor break from the chair either.


This window will neither budge nor break from the chair.

This window won't budge, nor will it break from the chair either.

This window won't budge, neither will it break from the chair.

I think sentence #1 is OK, but I feel a lack of something.
The problem with changing the "nor" to "or" is that the negative has to jump the "or" and that makes it sound ambiguous and vague:

The window won't budge from the chair either and the window won't break from the chair either.

2) Now the corridor door won’t open, and neither as it happens will the communicating door to the next-door room, nor the transom above the corridor door, try as Frank and Jean might.


I think this is OK, but I do note a "catch" after the "nor." And I don't like using "neither" here when there are three things and the first one isn't part of the construction.

Now the corridor door won’t open, and, as it happens, neither will the communicating door to the next-door room, nor will the transom above the corridor door, try as Frank and Jean might.

Or:

Now the corridor door won’t open, and, as it happens, nor will the communicating door to the next-door room, nor even the transom above the corridor door, try as Frank and Jean might.

Or:

Now neither the corridor door will open, nor, as it happens, will the communicating door to the next-door room, not even will the transom above the corridor door open, try as Frank and Jean might.

3) "And Father Kadzinski ... not infamous nor on his second nor third life ... merely a cannibal serial-killer priest!"


Something is goofy here!

And Father Kadzinski ... neither infamous nor on his second or third life ... merely a cannibal serial-killer priest!

And Father Kadzinski ... not infamous neither on his second nor third life ... merely a cannibal serial-killer priest!

And Father Kadzinski ... not infamous nor on his second or third life ... merely a cannibal serial-killer priest!

But, really, whatever you think sounds best!

(By the way, I think that "a serial-killer cannibal priest" sounds more palatable.)

Thanks for getting me to think about this! I wish that I could formalize this, but, at least, I'm getting closer.

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Postby Cord Phaeton » Sun May 22, 2005 9:28 am

Thanks, Apo.

I like your neat inclusion of "neither" in your first example for #1. It is very clear now with the "neither" and "nor." I'm going to go with that. (The "either," by the way, I tagged on at the end because Frank and Jean had just tried, in another room, to both muscle open a window and then bash it open with a chair. I'm going to keep the "either," but with a comma separating it from the rest, and see what happens.)

I also like your first example for #2. Much neater now with the "as it happens" coming before "neither" and with the addition of 'will" after the "nor." In context I think this construction will work the best.

For #3 I like your third example. I think it sounds best.

And I also like your (more palatable) idea of having "cannibal" follow "serial killer." "Cannibal" does have more teeth than "serial killer" as an image/idea, so it should get the more coveted 2nd spot before "priest." (I Googled both "cannibal serial killer" and "serial killer cannibal," by the way, and there are roughly 900 of the first and 1600 of the second.)

Thanks again!!
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