follow: different senses

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follow: different senses

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:08 am

Though RHK Webster's (at thefreedictionary) has the narrower sense (admittedly low down the list, and for the intransitive usage only):

follow: v.i. 15. to come next after something else in sequence, order of time, etc

and the -ing form 'following' can be used with the sense 'coming immediately after'

[AHD}: following adj.

1. Coming next in time or order

the more usual if not the only allowable sense of 'follow' (tr) in this area is 'come [somewhere] after (in time, a list, a certain ordering etc). Thus 3 follows 1.

I'm wondering if there is a dictionary reference that includes the 'follow directly' sense for the transitive usage of 'follow'. For which sense 3 would not follow 1.

That the area is confusing is shown by the fact that this US court case (paragraph 5) hinged on what 'the definition' of 'following' should be taken as.
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Phil White » Sat Jul 12, 2014 11:09 am

Ignoring what any dictionaries may say, I think the problem lies in trying to define this sense of "follow" in terms of "immediately".

Immediacy does not appear to me to be the crucial issue. Far more, it is the aspect of something being "the next in sequence" within the current discourse context.

If, for instance, I were to talk about the various places I have lived, I may well say "I spent about four years in London, then moved to Luton. This was followed by a couple of years overseas…".

The actual sequence was London - Luton - Southampton (for a couple of months) - Austria - Germany.

In the context of the discourse, however, the brief period (of unemployment) in Southampton is not significant. I am not providing a gapless list of all my different places of residence, but rather giving a broad sweep picture of significant periods in my life. The complete, objective sequence is not significant to the discourse.

Another example may be when talking about a marathon race:
"Sally came in first, followed by Peter, with Joan bringing up the rear."

In reality, Sally came in 425th, Peter 624th and Joan 711th. It is only the discourse context that makes any sense of the use of "follow" here. I am talking about the three members of our athletics club who took part in the marathon.

As with all considerations of discourse context, it has to be remembered that the context may be explicit or implicit.

I find the suggested usage "3 follows 1" rather bizarre outside of a context in which "2" is not significant (a list of evenodd (oops!) numbers, prime numbers, house numbers on one side of the street…) or unavailable in the discourse context (sorting a random bunch of numbered items that does not include an item numbered "2". This latter context is the one you were probably thinking of, i.e. given the two numbers "3" and "1", "3 follows 1 (in numerical sequence)"


It would be singularly idiosyncratic to say "old age follows childhood" outside of the context of a witty aphorism.

"Tony Blair followed Margaret Thatcher":
in the sense that he was the next "significant" Prime Minister in a list of "significant" Prime Ministers (and, of course, in the sense that he worshipped the ground she walked on and shared her vision of society). In an objectively complete list of prime ministers, John Major would feature. The very formulation "Tony Blair followed Margaret Thatcher" implies one of three things:
  • the awareness of a non-objective sequence
  • a complete unawareness of the existence of John Major
  • temporary forgetfulness as to the existence of John Major
In other words, for me, "follow" always appears to indicate the next item in an implicit or explicit sequence, where that sequence may not objectively be a complete sequence.
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Phil White » Sat Jul 12, 2014 12:46 pm

To apply that line of thinking to the legal case you referred to, it would be necessary to identify the referent sequence implicitly or explicitly invoked by the word "following" in the statute of the trust.

I would argue that it was wrong for the judges to reject out of hand the possibility that there may have been an intervening period of employment with a non-contributing employer purely on the basis of the semantics of the word "following" without consideration of the discourse context. It might, however, be reasonable to assume that the discourse context refers to a sequence including all periods of employment, whether with a contributing employer or a non-contributing employer. The alternative understanding would be that the referent sequence includes only periods of employment with contributing employers (with retirement being the final element in both sequences).
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:18 pm

Thanks, Phil. What you say makes eminent sense. Which is usually a reason why it will be considered unacceptable. I'll link to your comments from a debate I've been involved in elsewhere.

Hope you're both keeping well. Catherine and I have been to North Norfolk, camping and mainly looking for shade. The ice creams in Sheringham are worth the 200 mile drive.
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Phil White » Sat Jul 12, 2014 8:53 pm

Thank you, we are both fine, although I believe Sheba burned her tongue licking ice cream from the pavement this afternoon.

We had a lovely long walk today, followed by a chicken dinner (the intervening events being of no significance or interest to anyone in this particular discourse context - or indeed to anyone in any context that is worthy of public discussion).
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Jul 15, 2014 9:29 am

Ah, that was the cause of the train delay. She should pick on something her own size.
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Re: follow: different senses

Post by Phil White » Thu Jul 24, 2014 2:18 pm

Edwin F Ashworth wrote:Ah, that was the cause of the train delay. She should pick on something her own size.
A dog's right to choo-choos.
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End of topic.
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