Friday, September 9, 2011

From Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

How many times did I hear, as an undergraduate, someone say “Man qua man” and mean it? Too many times. From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:

Qua (= in the capacity of; as; in the role of), is often misused and is little needed in English. “The real occasion for the use of qua,” wrote H.W. Fowler, “occurs when a person or thing spoken of can be regarded from more than one point of view or as the holder of various coexistent functions, and a statement about him (or it) is to be limited to him in one of these aspects” (Modern English Usage [1st ed.] at 477). Here is Fowler's example of a justifiable use: “Qua lover he must be condemned for doing what qua citizen he would be condemned for not doing.” But as would surely work better in that sentence; and in any event, this use of qua is especially rare in American English.

One is hard-pressed to divine any purpose but rhetorical ostentation or idiosyncrasy in the following examples:

“Such developments . . . do not explain why students qua students have played such an important role in stimulating protest.” Seymour Martin Lipset, “Why Youth Revolt,” N.Y. Times, 24 May 1989, at A31.

“The proposal that a physician qua physician (or a medical ethic as such) is the necessary or best authority for the existential decision of rational suicide misrepresents medical knowledge and skills.” Steven H. Miles, "Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Profession's Gyrocompass," Hastings Ctr. Rep., May 1995, at 17.
Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly site.

Related posts
Singular they (and the patriarchal language of my undergrad education)
The word of the day: quaquaversal

comments: 2

Daughter Number Three said...

I didn't hear this usage of "qua" as an undergraduate, probably because I never took a philosophy class. (Don't ask; it was the days of super-lax distribution requirements.)

I did catch up on it in my first year of graduate school while taking a philosophy of science class.

Michael Leddy said...

It’s weirdly reassuring to know that students elsewhere heard the qua.

I haven’t thought of the phrase “distribution requirements” in years — thanks for reminding me of it.