Patrick Bill on Grammar Girl - when is a word a word and other rants

posted 17 Feb 2013, 15:03 by Lara Whybrow   [ updated 17 Feb 2013, 15:03 ]

Patrick Bill

1/12/2013 3:37:25 AM

What began as a wonderful, welcome, and learned essay by Grammar Girl on common misapprehensions of grammatical "rules" has, in some cases, devolved into pejorative name calling and self-ego boosting by a few of the correspondents. So far, the name calling has always been applied to some nameless other people. Except for Renee who directly attacked and insulted Grammar Girl.

I've seen that some on this list have been talking about "ignorant people", "grammar morons", and the like. Those terms could be equally applied to the people who used them in the first place. Let's find out, in a few cases, why.

If you understand the meaning of "irregardless", irregardless of whether you like the word or not, it is a word. Bill C., you may have a linguistic objection to it but that does not make it "ungrammatical". You need to learn how to apply the word "grammatical". Phsx is not a word ONLY because you don't know what it means AND neither does anyone else. But if we DID know what it meant, then it would be a meaningful word. Irregardless of whether or not it appears in a dictionary - ever! But it certainly wouldn't be "ungrammatical" even if it were composed of elements which when combined, produced a meaning antithetical to their roots. So, no, BIll C., no "slam dunk" involved. Your basketball skills need work. Mutual comprehension is the ONLY standard which languages can use in their definitions of word meanings. Without that, words would never change in meaning, and we would probably have fewer metaphors. In fact, many of the phrases and words we use in everyday speech are originally metaphors - words and phrases which changed in meaning due to MUTUAL comprehension. And we wouldn't have any new coinages or "borrowings", either. If we followed proscriptions like yours, English would be a dull language, never evolving. Now, Bill, if you intend to start changing the meaning of the word "grammatical" that's fine, but you need to let us know, somehow, that that's what's going on. Otherwise, it ain't gonna work.

But it was your final comment that really touched me off. That crack about "slouching towards Grammorah" which I'm sure you thought was both cute and convincing was the thing that pushed you over the edge. Anyone who attempts to use grammar to proscribe someone else's usage is merely trying to ram their personal opinions down that other person's throat. The grammatical purist, the grammatical proscriber, is nothing more than the self-serving, pompous south end of a north facing horse.

You have your opinions, fine. You have your personal pet preferences and your personal pet grammorahs, fine. And you can share them with us all you want. But don't you dare try to tell us or anyone else that your preferences are better. They're not. They never have been.

Only the ignorant proscribe a word like "irregardless", ignorant, that is, of what a language is all about.

OK. Enough about Bill C. There are some others that need a little comeupance.

Appearing in a dictionary is not evidence of anything other than the editor's opinion. Appeals to such "authority" are never conclusive or definitive.

Mathew, any one who attempts to proscribe double negatives by referring to a mathematical construct comprehends neither mathematics nor grammar and, in fact, misuses both. Grammar is a set of observations as to the forms and constructs of a particular language as used by a restricted group of people - not necessarily a "better" group, just some group that some grammarian encountered. That's all. Any grammar must allow for exceptions, variant forms, etc. Mathematics does not. Mathematics can be boiled to one basic rule: NO EXCEPTIONS. There is no procedure in mathematics that reads anything like: "2+3=5 except in the 2nd person plural present subjunctive". It's always 2+3=5. Always. To apply mathematical reasoning to grammar implies, first of all, that there IS reason and universality to grammar. There ain't. Second of all, if this double negative concoction were really true, then it would be, like mathematics, universally applicable, used in all languages. That it's not should set warning bells off in your brain. Why didn't it? It's like saying that a field goal was scored because the infield fly rule was in effect. Bringing over a fact from one discipline into another discipline (if we can call grammar that) must be done with more care and understanding than those who try to enforce a mathematical rule in a case where it is inappropriate. Again, the only meaningful and legitimate usage is one which is mutually understood - and used.

Renee, I know that "correct" grammar has a snob effect. I know that that snob effect, was inculcated in us all at an early age. And you're passing it on in your classes. It's baloney, of course, because it serves to inflate the egos of those of us who actually learned the often arcane and frequently inappropriate jargon of grammar and passed the tests, and it teaches us that it's OK to look down and sneer on people who don't talk like us - or more correctly like we were taught that the "better people" talk.. But it's being used to stifle people's expressivity by stifling their job applications and by calling them ignorant and by pretending that the world is slipping into some sort of grammorah. And that's baloney. So no, Valerie, I won't be following "prescribed style guides". Grammar, and style, too, is only a set of observations about forms and constructions. To prescribe it is to pretentiously and arbitrarily stifle it. I'll let the language, and myself, live. I hope this impacts on you.

And, Horace, I'll be avoiding your book, but thanks for the self-plug. Renee, you're no more of an authority than I am, or Grammar Girl is. 'Cause there ain't no such thing in grammar (and you know perfectly what I mean when I say that). Which means that Grammar Girl at the very least your equal, even though your ego won't like that.