Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Grammar nazis

I'll make a few quick observations about the grammar nazis. 
i) A certain percentage of the population does suffer from a degree of illiteracy. Due to ignorance, they make grammatical blunders. It reflects the state of public education and pop culture. To that extent, grammar nazis sometimes identify genuine problems.
ii) But oftentimes, people make mistakes, not because they don't know the difference between "there" and "their" or "its" and "it's" (to take two stock examples), but because they are writing fast, and their mind gets ahead of their fingers. 
ii) Moreover, grammar nazis are self-incriminating. That's because they lack a basic understanding of how language works. "Proper grammar" is ultimately based on predominant usage. If enough people make the same grammatical mistake, that becomes idiomatic English. Sheer usage makes incorrect grammar correct. Today's solecism may be tomorrow's idiom, for language evolves, and usage drives grammar. Grammar is ultimately descriptive, not prescriptive. It follows, not leads. Grammar is a social convention, and conventions change. Get used to it. 
iii) By the same token, the spoken word is the basis of the written word. The written word cannot long resist how most people actually speak. 
iv) "Proper grammar" is relative to social class, ethnicity, and region. Grammar is sensitive to dialectical variations. It depends on who you are, where you are, and who you're with. 
v) Likewise, slang pumps fresh blood into the language. Some slang is quickly dated, but other slang becomes standard usage. 
vi) The "rules" of formal written English can be stylistically uncouth. If, say, "proper" grammar requires you to use "that" three or four times in one sentence, the repetition is monotonous and confusing. 
Likewise, forbidding contractions or split infinitives can lead to rhythmically awkward sentence construction. Same thing with the "rule" that you should never use a long word when a short word will do. But a writer with a good ear may use a longer synonym to give the sentence a nice cadence. Or he may choose a longer word to rhyme with another word in the sentence. Redundancy can serve the same purpose. Omitted a word or adding an extra word to make the sentence roll off the tongue. 
Grammar nazis sacrifice euphony for arbitrary rules. They produce stilted sentences. 

1 comment:

  1. ...but because they are writing fast, and their mind gets ahead of their fingers.

    Steve, precisely because I agree with this blogpost that I've never brought up the fact that on multiple blogs you type the word "intercede" when you mean to type "intervene."