Discussion:
Murdoch: sift down
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Marius Hancu
2017-04-07 22:22:55 UTC
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Hello,

~~~
[Martin Lynch-Gibbon visits his brother, who lives in their parental home.]

The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.

Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~

"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"

Is "sift down" intransitive here? In that case, is the meaning:
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down [as/like] an ancient dust"
or
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down [being] an ancient dust"

I incline toward a transitive reading though, but I have a difficulty
with the air performing the "sift down" action.

Thanks.
--
Marius Hancu
b***@aol.com
2017-04-07 22:48:27 UTC
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Post by Marius Hancu
Hello,
~~~
[Martin Lynch-Gibbon visits his brother, who lives in their parental home.]
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Yes.
Post by Marius Hancu
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down [as/like] an ancient dust"
or
seemed to sift down [being] an ancient dust"
Neither, "the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift downward along the dust", AIUI.
Post by Marius Hancu
I incline toward a transitive reading though, but I have a difficulty
with the air performing the "sift down" action.
Thanks.
--
Marius Hancu
Rich Ulrich
2017-04-07 23:49:53 UTC
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Post by Marius Hancu
Hello,
~~~
[Martin Lynch-Gibbon visits his brother, who lives in their parental home.]
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Yes.
Post by Marius Hancu
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down [as/like] an ancient dust"
or
seemed to sift down [being] an ancient dust"
Neither, "the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift downward along the dust", AIUI.
Oh, I get it. "... sift" is intransitive; and "down an ancient dust"
is an ordinary prepositional phrase.
Post by b***@aol.com
Post by Marius Hancu
I incline toward a transitive reading though, but I have a difficulty
with the air performing the "sift down" action.
--
Rich Ulrich
Mark Brader
2017-04-08 00:07:44 UTC
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Post by Rich Ulrich
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Oh, I get it. "... sift" is intransitive; and "down an ancient dust"
is an ordinary prepositional phrase.
That phrase doesn't make sense. "Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
--
Mark Brader "The people have spoken...
Toronto And they must be punished!"
***@vex.net --Ed Koch, after not being reelected, 1989
Richard Yates
2017-04-08 02:07:23 UTC
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Post by Mark Brader
Post by Rich Ulrich
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Oh, I get it. "... sift" is intransitive; and "down an ancient dust"
is an ordinary prepositional phrase.
That phrase doesn't make sense. "Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
"Sift down" is a phrasal verb (first time I have used the term -
learned or mislearned by inference here).

"...the...air...seemed to sift down...dust."

cf "The mechanic broke down the engine to see what was wrong," or

"The mayor threw out the first pitch."
Mark Brader
2017-04-08 03:28:24 UTC
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Post by Richard Yates
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
"Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
"Sift down" is a phrasal verb (first time I have used the term -
learned or mislearned by inference here).
I see no reason to interpret it that way. The meaning is just "sift"
plus "down", and it would read equally well if "down" was moved to
before "from whose".
Post by Richard Yates
cf "The mechanic broke down the engine to see what was wrong," ...
Yes, that one is a phrasal verb.
--
Mark Brader, Toronto | "[I] have a will of iron."
***@vex.net | "And a head to match." --Robert B. Parker, "Chance"

My text in this article is in the public domain.
b***@aol.com
2017-04-08 14:32:47 UTC
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Post by Mark Brader
Post by Richard Yates
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
"Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
"Sift down" is a phrasal verb (first time I have used the term -
learned or mislearned by inference here).
I see no reason to interpret it that way.
One major reason is that it's apparently used as inseparable
in the sentence.
Post by Mark Brader
The meaning is just "sift"
plus "down", and it would read equally well if "down" was moved to
before "from whose".
With that new wording, "sift down" could also be intransitive.
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Richard Yates
cf "The mechanic broke down the engine to see what was wrong," ...
Yes, that one is a phrasal verb.
In all the instances of "sift down" blatantly used as transitive
I've found googling, it was separable and followed by "to", and
had the meaning of "reduce something in size or number".
Post by Mark Brader
--
Mark Brader, Toronto | "[I] have a will of iron."
My text in this article is in the public domain.
Peter Duncanson [BrE]
2017-04-08 15:32:09 UTC
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Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
"Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
"Sift down" is a phrasal verb (first time I have used the term -
learned or mislearned by inference here).
I see no reason to interpret it that way.
One major reason is that it's apparently used as inseparable
in the sentence.
Post by Mark Brader
The meaning is just "sift"
plus "down", and it would read equally well if "down" was moved to
before "from whose".
With that new wording, "sift down" could also be intransitive.
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Richard Yates
cf "The mechanic broke down the engine to see what was wrong," ...
Yes, that one is a phrasal verb.
In all the instances of "sift down" blatantly used as transitive
I've found googling, it was separable and followed by "to", and
had the meaning of "reduce something in size or number".
Post by Mark Brader
--
Mark Brader, Toronto | "[I] have a will of iron."
My text in this article is in the public domain.
The verb "sift" is related to "sieve", noun and verb.

OED:

sift, v.

1.
a. trans. To pass (something) through a sieve, in order to separate
the coarse from the fine particles, or to strain.

So I understand:

rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored crevices the warm oily
air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an ancient dust

to mean that:

the air, gently circulating, dislodged ancient dust from crevices in
the rafters causing it to fall as if it were coming out of a
sieve

The use of "sift" implies that the dust is fine rather than coarse.
--
Peter Duncanson, UK
(in alt.usage.english)
Marius Hancu
2017-04-17 13:37:58 UTC
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Post by Peter Duncanson [BrE]
Post by b***@aol.com
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Richard Yates
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
"Down" is an adverb; it and "from whose
scored crevices", both modify the transitive verb "sift" to define the
direction that the air sifts the dust.
"Sift down" is a phrasal verb (first time I have used the term -
learned or mislearned by inference here).
I see no reason to interpret it that way.
One major reason is that it's apparently used as inseparable
in the sentence.
Post by Mark Brader
The meaning is just "sift"
plus "down", and it would read equally well if "down" was moved to
before "from whose".
With that new wording, "sift down" could also be intransitive.
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Richard Yates
cf "The mechanic broke down the engine to see what was wrong," ...
Yes, that one is a phrasal verb.
In all the instances of "sift down" blatantly used as transitive
I've found googling, it was separable and followed by "to", and
had the meaning of "reduce something in size or number".
The verb "sift" is related to "sieve", noun and verb.
sift, v.
1.
a. trans. To pass (something) through a sieve, in order to separate
the coarse from the fine particles, or to strain.
rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored crevices the warm oily
air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an ancient dust
the air, gently circulating, dislodged ancient dust from crevices in
the rafters causing it to fall as if it were coming out of a
sieve
The use of "sift" implies that the dust is fine rather than coarse.
Thanks, everyone.
--
Marius Hancu

Mark Brader
2017-04-07 23:25:53 UTC
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Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Transitive. It's moving the dust down, the same way that a human working
a sifter would.
--
Mark Brader, Toronto | "No flames were used in the creation of
***@vex.net | this message." -- Ray Depew
Rich Ulrich
2017-04-08 16:26:58 UTC
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Post by Mark Brader
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Transitive. It's moving the dust down, the same way that a human working
a sifter would.
I disagree. Now I see why I disagree with your earlier reply to me.

I expect the dust to be unmoved, since its role is as the sieve,
as Peter Duncanson described.

I suppose you could be correct if the text goes on to describe
how the dust quickly covers the "meticulously cleaned tools"
after someone made the mistake of turning on the fan. But
that might seem to contradict "gently circulating."
--
Rich Ulrich
b***@aol.com
2017-04-08 17:04:08 UTC
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Post by Rich Ulrich
Post by Mark Brader
Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Transitive. It's moving the dust down, the same way that a human working
a sifter would.
I disagree. Now I see why I disagree with your earlier reply to me.
I expect the dust to be unmoved, since its role is as the sieve,
as Peter Duncanson described.
I suppose you could be correct if the text goes on to describe
how the dust quickly covers the "meticulously cleaned tools"
after someone made the mistake of turning on the fan. But
that might seem to contradict "gently circulating."
Yes, and also, why would the dust be "ancient" if it were sifted down by the circulating air? The process would be continuous and dust wouldn't have time to settle.
Post by Rich Ulrich
--
Rich Ulrich
Peter Duncanson [BrE]
2017-04-08 17:47:17 UTC
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Post by Marius Hancu
The great room, which was a Cotswold barn converted by my mother,
retained its high roof and rough-hewn wooden rafters from whose scored
crevices the warm oily air, gently circulating, seemed to sift down an
ancient dust. The long work table, with its scrubbed surface and neat
groups of meticulously cleaned tools, spanned the farther wall.
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
~~~
"the warm oily air . . . seemed to sift down an ancient dust"
Is "sift down" intransitive here?
Transitive. It's moving the dust down, the same way that a human working
a sifter would.
I disagree. Now I see why I disagree with your earlier reply to me.
I expect the dust to be unmoved, since its role is as the sieve,
as Peter Duncanson described.
I suppose you could be correct if the text goes on to describe
how the dust quickly covers the "meticulously cleaned tools"
after someone made the mistake of turning on the fan. But
that might seem to contradict "gently circulating."
Yes, and also, why would the dust be "ancient" if it were sifted down by the circulating air? The process would be continuous and dust wouldn't have time to settle.
Writers of fiction don't always consider practical matters like that.
--
Peter Duncanson, UK
(in alt.usage.english)
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