Author Topic: Why many young writers prefer "beneath" to "under" or "below"  (Read 6584 times)

Joe Carillo

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Why many young writers prefer "beneath" to "under" or "below"
« on: September 24, 2010, 10:59:43 PM »
I had a very interesting e-mail conversation on word usage recently with my friend Krip Yuson, the Palanca Awards Hall of Famer and Philippine Star columnist, and I would like to share that conversation with Forum members and guests:

Joe, been noticing for a long time that among the young, in particular, no one uses “under” and “below” anymore. Everyone uses “beneath”—even with such usage as “beneath the glass table” and “Beneath her nails was dirt.”

Hope we can have your take on this sometime?

                                                         IMAGE CREDIT: YOUTUBE.COM

I think there’s no question that “beneath” is a more elegant—shall I say also more “literary”?—word than “under” and “below,” so it’s not surprising for young writers and speakers to prefer it. I’d say though that there’s a touch of fastidiousness in “beneath” that I, as copyeditor, wouldn’t allow in most journalistic and nonliterary work. In such cases, I’ll blue-pencil “beneath” in “beneath the glass table” and in “Beneath her nails was dirt” anytime and routinely replace it with “under” or “below” depending on context. Listen to and feel the expressions “under the glass table” and “under her nails was dirt.” I’d say they sound much more natural and real-worldly.
Apart from their utilitarian sound and feel, of course, I have a suspicion that both “under” and “below” have been diminished in the public mind by their unfortunate association with the idiomatic expressions “under the table” (think “jueteng payola”!) and “below the belt” (think of Manny Pacquiao’s rogue boxing opponents!), both of which strongly connote corruption and unfairness. I can therefore imagine that this is one other reason for the beginning writer or budding public speaker to be loath to use “under” and “below.” They would rather use the more neutral if effete “beneath” to avoid such negative associations.

Thanks for ur sexy sexplication, Jose. But isn’t it rather beneath us to cotton to these modernist applications of intended if ill-fitting elegance? Jeje.

Seriously, I recall that there were distinctions made by my old elementary school grammar amanuensis, or police, relating to the physical aspects involved. Parang “beneath” had to mean really under and there’s a cover or lid pa, or earth piled upon the described object, as in “What Lies Beneath”—while kapag “under” nakikita pa, something like that. Or is memory playing trick or treat with me?

I agree with you that more natural ’yung dating ng UNDER and BELOW sa expressions cited.

Maybe you can also touch on the distinction between the proper uses of THAT and WHICH, isa pang di alam ng mga bata.

Daghang salamuchas meantime, and keep it up, bro!

You’re most welcome, Krip! I agree that it’s beneath us to cotton to writers who invariably force-fit the preposition “beneath” into their prose instead of the plainer, simpler “under” or “below,” so perhaps you’ll also agree that editors ought to issue a fatwah against “beneath” except in very specific descriptions of relative position, in poetry, and in enigmatic phrases meant to tantalize, like the movie title What Lies Beneath and the title of Bette Midler’s song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” (Admittedly, “under” and “below” just can’t cut it in such instances.)
As to the specific denotations of “beneath,” I think it’s best to take a look at what my Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary has to say about the word:
Function: preposition
Date: before 12th century
1 a : in or to a lower position than  : BELOW  <beneath the surface>  b : directly under  <the ground beneath her feet>  c : at the foot of  <a camp beneath a hill>
2 : not suitable to the rank of  : unworthy of  <beneath his dignity>
3 : under the control, pressure, or influence of  <the chair sagged beneath his weight>
4 : concealed by  : under the guise of  <a warm heart beneath a gruff manner>
As we can see, “beneath” has very specific uses, so your old elementary-school grammar amanuensis must have been on the right track after all in discussing all those fine distinctions about the usage of the word.
As to the proper uses of “that” and “which,” you may want to recommend to your students to check out my four-part discussion of them here in the Forum, “Learning to use the relative pronouns confidently,”which I posted way back on October 16, 2009. It previously ran as a four-part series in my English-usage column in The Manila Times in September-October 2008. In that series, I extensively discussed the relative pronouns “who,” “which,” and “that” in the context of their role as introducers of restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses and of subordinate clauses in general.
I also devoted four chapters (Chapter 105-108) on the usage of “who,” “which,” and “that” in my third book, Give Your English the Winning Edge. I daresay that any serious student of English grammar who reads that website posting and those four chapters of my book need never worry ever again about misusing “who,” “which,” and “that.”
Finally, thanks for the words of encouragement, Krip! I sure could use them “when the gray November of my soul”—I’m just echoing your quote of Herman Melville in your Philippine Star column this morning—sets in unannounced sometimes in my good-English advocacy.
« Last Edit: October 26, 2023, 01:48:24 PM by Joe Carillo »