As part of the research for the despite/in spite of post, I decided to check in a proper, paper usage dictionary to make sure that the internet’s laissez-faire attitude toward these constructions was the norm, rather than merely a symptom of the unregulated style of the cyberworld. To my great surprise, none of the three guides I looked at made even the slightest mention of despite or in spite of.
Two of the books (The AP Stylebook & Woe is I) were fairly short, so I could sort of understand that they might not bother with this non-issue. But the other (The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style) had a full 491 pages, each page measuring approximately the length of my ulna by the height of my face, chin to hairline. (I apologize, but I couldn’t find a ruler around the apartment, so I had to make do with what I had on me.) Given the book’s relatively thin margins and two-column layout, that’s a lot of space to discuss the pressing issues of English usage. Having been afflicted with uncertainty over the meaning of despite and in spite of for a few months before I finally remembered to look it up, I was surprised that something of such importance to me did not pass muster to inhabit one of the nearly 500 pages. What, I asked the empty living room, could be of more interest than the despite/in spite of question? Receiving no answer, I flipped through the book’s advice, looking for something that could have been cut to make room for despite/in spite of.
Lo and behold, page 257 greeted me with a slightly-more-than-a-page-long discourse on “no way” and why there was basically no way to use it correctly. Here is how the section starts, and I think it says a lot:
“Years ago I asked a former flame if she cared to renew our relationship. ‘No way!’ she exclaimed. I responded, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ She amended her answer: ‘No will.’ At least I had the satisfaction of winning her concession on a point of English usage.”
Men, take note: that’s a little thing prescriptivists call “charm”. However, just because people say “where there’s a will, there’s a way” does not make it so. I assure you that no amount of will will cause me to usurp Michael Johnson as the fastest runner ever, nor will will net me a Fields Medal. Now, I will concede the point that “no way” is likely in this case to be hyperbolic. There are a few ways that the former flame might be enticed to renew the relationship: for instance, if all men but the author were turned to stone, or if the author decided to forsake his priggish opposition to well-established usages. But as each of these is extremely unlikely to happen, the flame’s proclamation is, for all intents and purposes, correct.
After that introduction, the advice begins in earnest. I will only look at one of the author’s complaints, but I assure you it’s representative of the rest of them:
“The following sentence opens a news brief: ‘There’s no way Reagan will accept an invitation […] to visit the region in an attempt to end violence.’ To keep the first three words but make the sentence minimally grammatical, extra words are needed to connect the phrase ‘no way’ to the verb ‘accept’ […]”
Of course, this is totally wrong. I agree that the sentence he quotes, as it stands, is not minimally grammatical — it is fully grammatical. The clause Reagan will … end violence is a complementizer phrase that modifies way, forming the noun phrase no way (that) Reagan will … end violence. The underlying syntax us a bit clearer if you include “that”:
It’s similar to the relative clause in a man (that) I know or the point that needs established. And we know that that is omissible in similar noun phrases:
Unsurprisingly, given these similar omissions, we find no way without that attested long ago; in 1889 if not earlier:
(3) I hope there is no way he can get Sabriny’s little pension.
So, as we see, the newscaster’s sentence was fine as it stood. But let’s suppose that we put aside common sense and history and pretend that the sentence is incorrect. How does the author propose to fix it?
“The best solution might be to toss out the first three words and insert not: ‘Reagan will not accept an invitation […]'”
Quick test to see who’s still awake: what’s the major difference between the revised sentence and the original no way version? The revision states that Reagan will not accept the invitation as it stands, but says nothing about whether he is open to changing his opinion. The original states that he cannot be persuaded to accept it either. The original contains semantic information that the revision does not. This is not a good revision for the sentence, thanks for playing, try again tomorrow.
In light of this bad advice, and after perusing the neighboring pages, I began to understand how this book had ended up at the used-book store where I found it. A suggestion on the preceding page was that “multi-million dollar aid package” would be better said as “multi-million dollar package of aid”. Everyone who agrees, please raise your hand. All those with your hands raised, please never become a newspaper editor.
Summary: This book was not worth the $5 I paid for it. And no way is a reasonable construction.