April 22, 2004

Speaking of language, John reminds me that it is wrong to say "expound on" something, as I just did in that last post. It's so common to say "expound on," especially in legal circles, that it almost seems too prissy to refrain from using it in casual speech/writing, but John is definitely right that you should say that you expound something, and that the misuse arose from confusion with the phrase "expand on" (or the more rare "expatiate on"). According to Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage:
To expound is to set forth in systematic order ...
Not necessarily reticulated...
... to explain, make clear, elucidate--the word calls for a direct object without intervention. You expound a doctrine; you do not expound on it.
I think people are attracted to the word "expound" over "expand" because "expound" contains "pound" and therefore feels weighty, while "expand" seems "expansive" and that seems empty. "Expound" thus seems to work when you want to flatter someone who speaks at length, because their words have weight, and when you want to insult someone for being ponderous. Isn't it interesting how the weight metaphor works in both a positive and negative way? Well, whether it is or not, people like to say "expound," often with an added "on," which is incorrect, technically, for now, according to Follet....

3 comments:

Margaret Bruce LeBlanc said...

Thank you, Ann. I had just asked my husband to expand on his opinion of a book we had both read. I was wondering if I was incorrect and if I should change the word to 'expound'. I instead shall ask him to fill in that empty space with his opinion. I'll stick with expand.

Peggy

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