Horses, Dogs, and Grammar

The horses have the run of the acreage, and every so often they mosey up to the house to check in. The boss horse is Monte. He is a big boy, supposedly of mixed Quarter Horse and Belgian Draft lineage, though he has neither confirmed nor denied this, and of a confident and nosy disposition. We’ve been told that he used to work as a rodeo pickup horse–the kind whose riders pick up competitors after they’ve been tossed off the backs of broncs or bulls–but he hasn’t confirmed or denied this either. He’s kind of a reticent horse.

Chevy is the latest addition to our horse community. I don’t know his lineage, and he doesn’t have a former career because he’s never been ridden, but he’s a good-looking horse who likes being with the other horses.

This morning as my daughter was leaving for work, Monte placed himself slightly behind her car. She honked; he maintained a glacial calm. She started backing slowly; he didn’t move. She nudged him ever so slightly with her taillight; he shifted a greater portion of his bulk into the car’s path. At this point, Chevy decided to join him behind the car.

Meanwhile, Feather, a curly black dog of unknown lineage (probably border collie and springer spaniel, but she hasn’t confirmed or denied either), was taking an interest, barking at the horses from inside the yard fence. Inspired, I opened the gate and told her to do her stuff.

Feather’s stuff didn’t amount to much. She ran back and forth between the open gate and a spot alongside the fence about six feet away, barking all the while, but did not venture outside the yard. Where horses are concerned, most dogs talk a good game but are unwilling to engage when given an opportunity.

Eventually the horses moved off in a bored sort of way and watched my daughter’s car as it headed off down the long winding driveway.

All of which leads me to ask, has anyone else noticed what a pain in the punctuation it is to deal with dog breed names in written English? Apparently you’re only supposed to capitalize those parts of the breed names which are actual proper nouns (place names and people names). The “b” in border collie is not capitalized, since the border region of the breed’s origin is not a proper noun, but the Brittany of Brittany spaniel is a proper noun, so it does get capitalized. Likewise with English bulldog and French bulldog (though alert readers may note an inconsistency with the treatment of proper nouns in the architectural and culinary terms french doors, french press, and french fries). This rule is not uniformly enforced; Rottweiler is sometimes capitalized, sometimes not, though the name is derived from Rottweil, a town in Germany where the breed originated. We capitalize the “l” in Labrador retriever but use lower case for black lab. Meanwhile, horse breeds get capitalized no matter what, proper nouns or no (Arabian, Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse). Very sensible of the horse community.

In English grammar, as in life, things are not always as cut and dried as we would like. Things develop in a twisty, convoluted, ad hoc sort of way. English grammar is a function of history, and the history of the English language is a particularly thorny one. Grammar-wise, it could be a lot worse. We cope as best we can, look up punctuation rules when in doubt, and are glad when the horse voluntarily vacates the car’s path.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s