I'm not so sure

Posted by Mugball-us on January 29, 2005

In Reply to: I'm not so sure posted by David FG on January 28, 2005

: : : : : : Is 'predicate' used properly in the following sentence:
: : : : : : Hannibal allegedly was made to take an oath of eternal enmity toward the Romans by his father, who lost the First Punic war -- thus laying the predicate for the Second.
: : : : : : Thanks.

: : : : :
: : : : : I hope you can find someone informed on the use of this word, but it seems to be used here as a form of prediction, which, according to the OED, is an incorrect use. If the author had said the second Punic War as predicated on the first we would at least have a statement clear enough to argue about. SS

: : : :
: : : : I agree, the author appears to be confusing 'predicate' with 'predict' - but even then, it would be an odd, not to say clumsy, sentence.

: : : : DFG

: : : The writer seems to be using predicate as a noun in the sense of foundation. This would be an extension of the sense of the noun to include a sense which is already attributed to the verb.
: : : predicate v. tr. To base or establish (a statement or action, for example): I predicated my argument on the facts.
: : : Did Shakespeare use words correctly? The answer is Yes if he transmitted his intended meaning clearly and No otherwise. It's the same here. I can't see anything to suggest that the writer doesn't appreciate the difference predicate and predict.

: : Predicate can be used in the sense of logic. Hannible's father has taken an oath to defy the Romans. Hannibal takes the same oath out of loyalty to his father, therefore Hannibal will defy the Romans. That's not exactly what's being said above, but I think it might be meant in that way, the oath being the predicate. But I like I say, I'm not certain.

: Hmmmmm. Having returned to this, I think you are both probably right. I still think it is an ugly sentence that could well have been better cast.


Sorry for jumping in late on this one but "laying the predicate", ugly though it be, seems to be gaining popularity here in the States. It seems to spring from legalese where a predicate crime is a crime the State must first prove to ultimately bring a charge of racketeering. Also, a trial lawyer who is trying to impeach the credibility of a witness must first "lay the predicate" by getting contradictory prior statements admitted into evidence.

Example: "A party may impeach the credibility of an adverse witness with that witness's prior inconsistent statements...When laying the predicate for impeachment, counsel must advise the witness of the time, place, and to whom the prior statement was spoken."

Derivative usages seem to be proliferating, possibly due to the inescapable crime dramas and crime investigation programs on American television. "Laying the predicate" is used as a substitute for "laying the foundation" in all the cases I googled. It has been borrowed most often by politcal writers and television pundits.

Example: "In laying the predicate for universal female education, beginning in the refugee camps, the Afghan women cite passages from the Quran and the Hadiths."

And my favorite example, from television: "And what you saw him doing today is sort of laying the predicate for a lot of sausage making on Capitol Hill that is going to be extremely ugly."