Prescriptivism

4 Mar 2015

Lord Reginald and Proper Grammar

Submitted by Karl Hagen
In "honor" of grammar day (an event which profoundly annoys me because it always brings out people's pet peeves about grammar, I present the following Punch cartoon (cited in Richard Bailey's Nineteenth-Century English, showing that middle-class insecurity about language has been around for a long time. It's the governess, not the rich kid, who cares about "proper" speech. She's the one who is socially insecure, after all.
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9 Jul 2009
I've written before about how preparation material for the SAT writing section sometimes presents an over-simplified view of grammar that can get you into linguistic trouble. Here's another case in point: The following question appears in a Kaplan practice SAT (12 Practice Tests for the SAT 2009 Edition, p. 589):
Although talent may be a crucial element on the road to fame, it is difficult to succeed without a highly developed work ethic.
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22 Jun 2009
The Grammarphobia question for June 22 addresses our old friend "none is" vs. "none are."

Q: As an SAT writing instructor, I am intrigued by your Grammar Myths page, which debunks the rule that "none" is always singular. Since the College Board follows this rule, we have thousands of students learning to write sentences like “None of the chickens is hatched.” What do you think about that?

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10 Jun 2009

Prescriptive Fetishes

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Discussing the people's understanding of the split infinitive, Fowler said, "Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes."

Fowler's dictum holds for many other prescriptive rules of grammar. In many cases, ignorance is bliss. Your writing will probably be better, because you're not twisting yourself into knots trying to avoid some illusory error, and you won't waste your time thinking about other people's grammar when you should be attending to their meaning.

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18 May 2009

Comma fanboys

Submitted by Karl Hagen
In a recent discussion on the ATEG mailing list, a question arose as to the origins of the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that is often used to teach how to punctuate compound sentences. Brett Reynolds, who writes the blog English, Jack pointed to a post he wrote a few years back trying, without success, to pin down the origins of the word's use as an acronym.
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30 Mar 2009

Do me a favor

Submitted by Karl Hagen
The next time you start bitching about "grammatical errors" that set your teeth on edge, have the decency to make the things you complain about actual issues of grammar. Grammar is a somewhat vague term, but it certainly includes syntax, as well as a good chunk of morphology. And a case can be made for certain parts of semantics. But spelling errors, such as the confusion between "affect" and "effect," certainly aren't grammatical problems. And I would argue that most questions of word usage, that is those that turn on pure semantics (e.g.
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