Monday, September 24, 2018

Grammar Police

The question that I ask myself quite often is do grammar rules ever become outdated? After quite a bit of research, I have found the answer is: yes, yes, yes! Of course, they do, except for those English majors from my era who can't let go of them. The English language is difficult enough without having so many rules that have so many exceptions. 

To this day I can remember having red marks on my papers due to ending a sentence with a preposition. Dangling prepositions were apparently huge mistakes. Really, I just don't like someone imposing their outdated guidelines to my writing. Please don't get me wrong. I do like guidelines and look them up frequently. I need constructive criticism. But some rules are meant to be broken. (And I just did with this sentence and the one before.)

Let's begin with ending a sentence with a preposition. It is fine to do so in almost all circumstances. Two examples where it is not necessary:
"Where are you going to?" Drop the to and simply ask, "Where are you going?" Or, "Where are you at?" There is no need for at. Drop it and just say, "Where are you?" When as a child, I remember my mother and teachers answering my question of, "Where are you at?" with a short answer of, "Between the a and the t." Must have worked because I still remember this rule.

Even Winston Churchill rejected the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition with his famous quote of, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." There are a few variations floating around of this quote, but basically all are extremely similar. It has been in circulation for some time and there seems to be no real evidence that it was his true quote or some other writer who attributed it to Churchill to demonstrate his dislike of this rule.

Some of the misguided rules are actually rules leftover from Latin grammar. Times change. Four different articles that I found had the over-application of a real or perceived rule of grammar labeled hypercorrection. I love that word. Usually it is used to describe someone trying to appear formal or educated, however they are so far over the edge that they don't realize they are actually incorrect in the modern usage. 

Another way to have the grammar police come after you is if you begin a sentence with a conjunction. In my second paragraph above, the last two sentences would put me behind the grammatical bars. Students everywhere  are getting points taken off their essays for beginning their sentences with "and," "so," "but," and "or." The origin is said to have started when teachers felt the need to teach their students where to break their sentences. Therefore, another erroneous grammar rule was born. So be BOLD. Break the so-called rule.

While we are on the topic of "bold," so to speak, let's talk about the rule of not splitting an infinitive. To refresh memories of those who have been out of the classroom for many years, an infinitive are those two-word verb forms that begin with  "to" such as "to go," "to fish," or "to read." If you split them then you insert an adverb in the middle. In several different sources I found this example from the starship Enterprise. The mission, it states, is, "To boldly go where no one has gone before." The Oxford and Merriam-Webster English usage dictionaries have no problem with it. So go ahead and split those infinitives when it is needed.

Then there is the age old argument of using the word "irregardless."

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster has this quote on the word, "irregardless:"

"One word that gets a lot of vitriol is the word "irregardless." There is a dictionary entry for "irregardless." "Irregardless" is a word. This inspires specific vehement hatred in people. "Irregardless" is a word and we're duty-bound to enter it. It is related to "regardless." It is actually a blend of two words. It's a blend of "irrespective" and "regardless." People hate it because they say that it has no use — why not just use "regardless"?
But actually in the dialect that "irregardless" comes from, it has a specific use that doesn't translate well in print. It's basically an emphatic use of "regardless." So if you're a native speaker of certain dialects that use "irregardless" you use "irregardless" to shut down further conversation on a topic. I might say, "Dad, let me borrow the car. I'm a really good driver." And he'll say, "Regardless, I'm not comfortable." I'll say, "Oh but come on. I'll get it detailed, and I'll put gas in it." He'll say, "Irregardless, no."
The point of the "irregardless" is to shut down conversation. So "irregardless" is a word. It has a specific use, in particular dialects. That said, it's not part of standard English and so — especially if you're writing or if you're speaking in formal places — you want to use "regardless" instead. Because if you use "irregardless," people will think you're uneducated."
Many grammar police have their own rules made up in their minds. They may have been relevant at one time but have become overrated throughout the years. As a writer, I know that I need to be aware of what is truly a rule to follow and which ones are allowed to be broken. 
One further example of what has become a topic for debate is the use of a comma. Who knew that such a tiny little punctuation mark could draw such discussion. Writers need to use it to show a pause in the phrasing. Example:
"Let's hurry and eat Grandma" or Let's hurry and eat, Grandma. The two sentences mean two different things. To end my blog of watching grammar, let's not forget the Oxford comma. When I have a series of items in a list is it necessary to put the last comma before saying and?  Example:
"While at the grocery store I bought apples, celery, milk, cereal and bread." At one time it was a hard fast rule that a comma needed to appear after cereal. No longer is that the case, except with some grammar police. 
I did discover that it depends on what source you use to find your grammar rules. Know your audience and who will be reading it. Many authors like to use made up words for the creative side of their writing. As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

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