Elements of the grammar wars

A couple years ago I was at odds and ends and decided to start a blog documenting instances of creative grammar. It was intended as a response to those blogs that make fun of people for misusing apostrophes. I didn’t ever find much time for it, but here’s one of the posts, a mini review of an article that exemplified everything I planned to blog against:

Article under attack: “50 years of stupid grammar advice”

The link above points to a long rant about grammar. This linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum thinks Strunk & White are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why? They wrote a grammar book, but they didn’t always follow their own advice, and they don’t know a thing about semantics.

Well, yeah. It’s silly advice, but not because it’s wrong or inconsistent. Prescriptive grammar is about class, not accuracy. S&W’s business has always been to tell you how to talk more like some upwardly mobile, expensively educated New England-ish chap and less like the slob you know you are. If we thought we were learning anything about the mechanics of language from this book, we wouldn’t buy the Maira Kalman illustrated edition to look chic on our bookshelf.

Anyway, S&W weren’t linguists. Linguists study how people actually talk, whereas style guide writers tell you how you ought to talk if you want to fit in to their world. S&W lived in a very popular world. Thus, a very popular book.

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One Response to “Elements of the grammar wars”

  1. Elly June 17, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    While I’m reblogging, I’ll also reblog a link left in a comment on my facebook post about this blog. A lawyer is reprimanded for her incorrect apostrophe use. The article contains a handy guide for proper use, so a judge (or a blogger) doesn’t make fun of you, too.

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