Cataphora, pro-VP, and why my office is so messy

In which the messiness of my office leads to a discussion of cataphora and the pro-verb-phrase.

I know it’s not cool to do so, but I still read on paper.  I like to take a few articles and sit on the couch outside my office with a cup of coffee and a highlighter.  When I finish an article, I usually write up some notes about it, and then I stick the paper and my notes in a binder.  I like paper in my hands even more when it comes to books.  I appreciate the fact that my Kindle lets me get on the plane to France without having to carry a suitcase full of books, but my books are my connection to the entire experience of my life; I hate to part with them, and I love the way that they make my home feel like…a home.

My advisor in grad school told us that we had to make a decision early in our careers, and stick with it.  Would we:

  • …file papers that we’d read by author’s last name, or…
  • …file papers that we’d read by topic?

Filing papers by topic didn’t work for me.  The problem was that the same paper could be relevant to (a) acoustics, (b) Quantal Theory (the explanation of QT on Wikipedia sucks, but here it is if you want it), and (c) articulator velocity in stress contrasts.  So, 15 years ago or so, I switched to by-author’s-last-name.  The pictures below show the result: I have so many binders full of articles that it interferes with my ability to store my books.

img_6967Maybe it’s time to try by-topic again?  A scary thought, but I can tell you this: the only reason that I haven’t thrown these boxes out despite the fact that I haven’t opened a single one of them in the five or so years since I moved into this office is that I know for a fact that one of them holds a stack of every paper I’ve ever read about metamorphic testing.  I know that I would not want to have to remember who wrote every single paper I’ve ever read about metamorphic testing–it’s reassuring to know that when I need those papers again, I’ll find them, neatly stacked, in one of those boxes.

I hate ending blog posts with a question, but: how about you?  What’s your strategy for hanging on to the stuff that you’ve read?  Or, do you not even bother with paper anymore?  Please tell me that it’s not the case that you no longer bother reading…  English notes below–too many to leave room for French notes.  Typical Anglo-Saxon…

English notes

Do so: you know what a pronoun is: it’s a word that takes the place of a noun.  We use them in very particular circumstances–typically, when the noun has been mentioned before, and there is some assumption that both the speaker and the hearer know which thing is being talked about.

Do so and its relatives, which include do it, do that, and just plain do, can be thought of as pro-verb-phrases.  That means that they’re taking the place of a verb and its related words (I’ll show you what I mean in a minute) that has typically been mentioned before, such that both the speaker and the hearer know which verb phrase is being talked about.


  • He asked me to leave, and I did.  (did replaces leave, sorta.)
  • He asked me to leave the money, and I did.  (did replaces leave the money, sorta.  Like how I switched intransitive leave (me to leave) and transitive leave (leave the money)?
  • He asked me to leave the money for the rent that we had forgotten to pay the month before because we were out of town on the table, and I did.  (did replaces leave the money for the rent that we had forgotten to pay the month before because we were out of town on the table, sorta.)

Now, there’s another way that you could say all three of those sentences, and it would mean pretty close to the same thing, although the register is somewhat different, perhaps.  In this form, the do becomes do so:

  • He asked me to leave, and I did so.
  • He asked me to leave the money, and I did so.
  • He asked me to leave the money for the rent that we had forgotten to pay the month before because we were out of town on the table, and I did so.

It’s worth pointing out that although I’ve given you examples only in the past tense, you can use either of these–that is, did or did so as a pro-verb-phrase–in any tense, as far as I know

  • Whenever I tell him not to be an asshole, he asks me to leave.  I always do so, I always have done so, and I will always continue to do so.

If you want to read more about this construction as it is used after a verb phrase, there’s a nice page about that here, on the English Grammar web site.  I’m going to talk about how it was used in this post: before the verb phrase.  I know it’s not cool to do so, but I still read on paper. 

We think about pronouns as I described them above: referring to something that has been referred to more specifically previously.  But, we can use them before the thing that we’re going to refer to, as well.  Here are some examples:

  • I know you don’t know him, but my brother will be here tomorrow, and he’d really like to meet you.
  • I hate them, those fucking bastards.

The phenomenon is called cataphora.    From the point of view of how we usually think of discourse as working, it’s a bit bizarre, but you probably run across it most days of your life on which you do any reading, at least in English.

Pro-verb-phrases can be cataphoric, as well, and that’s how I used do so in this post:

  • I know it’s not cool to do so, but I still read on paper.

You can think of do so as a “preplacement,” versus a “replacement,” of read on paper.  I hope that helps, and if you have thoughts to share with me on the subject of how to file papers that you’d like to give me, please do so. 







2 thoughts on “Cataphora, pro-VP, and why my office is so messy”

  1. I tend to file stuff in a pile on the floor, which is one reason I seldom find anything if more than ten minutes have passed. Mercifully, I’m not a reporter or an academic or anything else sensible. But I did once work with (and share a file with) a guy who filed phone numbers by categories on the theory that we’d still be able to find them if we couldn’t remember the person’s name. That made perfect sense, but guessing the category meant I had to recreate his thought process. Should I look under basketball, sport, or coaches? I never did know and spent a lot of time flipping through file cards despairingly.

    Liked by 1 person

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