Raising, and answering, a usage question

January 15, 2014|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

A gentleman has written to ask about the raised/reared distinction, whether it is valid to say that cattle are raised but children are reared. 

I think that the people who would insist on that distinction are the same people who would insist that kids are goats, not children. And I think further that mortality is erasing that view. 

What makes the point a little more interesting is that the inquirer also asked why such distinctions might be important, what sources to consult to resolve disputes over usage, and how those authorities can determine what is correct usage. 

Let's go through the stages. 

We always start with our own sense of the language, based on experience. 

I was taught the raised/reared and kids/children distinctions. I also have the experience of more than half a century of wide-ranging reading and more than three decades as a working editor. We haven't had our knuckles rapped at The Sun over kids/children in some years, and I can't recall a reader's objection to "raising children." My own experience in reading is that rearing has pretty much faded away.*

But one's own ear is far from infallible, and we are all limited by the range of our experience and our propensity to develop crotchets. 

The next step is to consult authorities, and those of you who have been here before will recognize that the two authorities on usage whom I most frequently consult are Garner's Modern American Usage (third edition) and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage

Bryan Garner tends toward the prescriptivist end of the spectrum and MWDEU tends toward the descriptivist, but both are eminently sensible and informed. 

Garner is succinct: "The old rule, still sometimes observed, is that crops and livestock are raised and children are reared. But today the phrase born and raised is about eight times as common in print as born and reared. And raise is now standard as a synonym for rear...." (Note that he looks at the evidence.)

MWDEU likes to explore the history, and the history of raise/rear shows that raise for rear was once common in British English, but dropped out in the nineteenth century while remaining current in the United States. Raise, MWDEU concludes, is "perfectly standard American," though rear has not vanished. 

Those wishing further empirical backing for a conclusion can consult dictionaries, the Google Ngram Viewer or the Corpus of Contemporary American English. I searched the corpus for raise children, raising children, rear children, and rearing children, and raising is clearly the dominant usage in what my freshman composition students used to refer to as "today's world of modern times." 

Back to the why bother? question. 

I will take it for granted that clarity and precision in writing are to the advantage of the reader. But achieving such clarity and precision is more complicated that merely following a set of rules. 

With raise/rear, one can see a clear and well-defined distinction of meaning, one that has been, moreover, taught and published in usage manuals. It is, though, one that we can see is fading away, and perhaps may make no sense to the audience fro which you are writing. Then it becomes a meaningless distinction, what I have previously labeled dog-whistle editing. And you probably do not have the time to concentrate on distinctions that make no difference. 

What you are left with is, beyond your experience, the autorities you consult, and the evidence, is your judgment. I put it to you that your informed and considered judgment will serve you better than snap judgments. 

*Actually, raising children also seems to have undergone some erosion in favor of parenting, and we can talk about what that says about the changing attitudes about the respective roles of parent and child over the past couple of decades. 

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.