The Return of the Noodge:
I've never wanted to be a noodge but the state of grammar in this country is driving me more and more in that direction. I don't know if you'd find the word noodge in your dictionary but I'll try to offer a usable definition: Noodge -- a nuisance, a nag, especially a nagging child, a pest, one who won't stop trying to get what he wants by pestering, nagging... etc. I think I could go on with this but I'm sure you've got the idea. If anybody knows the derivation of the word and its actual etymology I'd appreciate knowing it. Okay, whatever the definition, by the definition I've offered, I am one and I confess. And in this area of English grammar I'll be one until my last breath.
I was born into a world where English grammar had been perfected into a model of logic. The language from the time of Shakespeare and his peers was a beautiful one and had many skilled practitioners. But it had areas in which its logic needed refining. Over the years between Shakespeare's, Milton's and Robert Burns's eras and America's colonial period this was largely achieved. With a few more tweaks between George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's presidencies English grammar had reached a perfection which needed little or no improvement. I don't know if we or the British deserve most of the credit but I do know that the Irish contributed much to the colorful and graceful use of what we know as English grammar.
One of the simple rules that grew from this evolution was that a sentence must agree in number, tense, mood and voice. This was called parallel structure. It helped create graceful and unambiguous sentences. Along with this were a number of devices that again made sentences easier to understand and even to speak and read. I won't bore those who know all of this with examples of how all the rules (that dirty word) apply to all sentences. However, a sentence I just read on this site disappointed me because I like the author and wouldn't want to offend her.
In attacking the structure of this sentence I'll be committing an offense against political correctness that I believe will be unprecedented. I have to hold the womens' movement responsible for the grammatical mess that the elimination of this rule caused. The rule in "the old days" was -- I can hear the rage building before I say another word -- when the gender of a noun or pronoun is undetermined, (oh, my God!) masculine gets the preference. Okay, I've set the stage for a rebellion not seen since 1976, so I'll just continue with my sacrilege. First, get a clear grasp on the old rule: ...when the gender is undetermined...
Now, here's the sentence (paraphrased so as not to embarrass the author), "Marsha, in that mirror, saw a woman inept, clumsy and awkward, unable to see themself..."
"Unable to see themself...?" Remember that battle over "masculine gets the preference" and how that particular rule pertained to the undetermined gender? "When the gender is undetermined, etc... "Who did Marsha see in the mirror? A woman if I am correct. Is the gender of that woman undetermined? Can that be? Then, it seems, the sentence should read, "...unable to see herself..." This might not be worth much attention except that it isn't uncommon. In fact it's so common that it makes it difficult for a grammatically concerned person to read at all. As soon as the women won the victory over "masculine gets the preference" the original purpose of the rule was forgotten and the most absurd constructions began to spread everywhere. Here is a glaring instance -- an educational product to help children learn to read better and more easily. This was the way their radio commercial began: Is your child not living up to their potential? These people are going to teach children to read? Sadly, they did!
Nobody who wasn't there would believe the damage done to the language by the elimination of that simple rule. There were other ways it could have been resolved. But the movement wouldn't settle for anything but the substitution of their for his or hers regardless of gender. Regardless of the construction of the sentence and its requiremants. And this brought about the crumble of nearly all grammar. I think a great number of students concluded that if that rule didn't matter, no rule mattered. I hate to resort to cliche' but -- domino effect?
Have I made my point or only new enemies? Well, maybe I'm about to annoy some more people. To the consternation of countless parents my next attack, I believe, will be on the elimination of cursive handwriting. Penmanship. And every newspaper and ad agency in the country can brace itself for a battle that will make the Irish resistance to British rule look like a dance around the maypole.
Then there is FOR free! "For free" has to go! It had a good long run. It took over somewhere in the 'sixties. (The nineteen sixties.) "For free" is an ignorant, illiterate expression. Free! I got it free! You can get it free! "Free" is an adjective; "for" is a preposition. They don't go together. Somewhere, some true grammarian will read this and if he or she (not they) has the courage to, again, defy political correctness he/she will support me in this uphill fight. Stamp out FOR free! I'll rest now. I'm tired. I've been fighting this battle for the revival of English grammar and usage all alone. Does anybody want to join? Are we going to allow the barbarians to continue to rule?
21 June 2013/a little addendum
Here's how important grammar and proper usage can be. I know and we all know that the difference between "may" and "might" was lost forever a very long time ago. However, today I was in the Cape May, New Jersey post office and saw this poster. This is from memory. I didn't write anything down so I can't do it verbatim. The poster was explaining which packages cannot be shipped and why. It explained how they must be labeled, etc. In the "why" column the explanations were, for example, "may contain explosives". By the rules of the old grammar this would grant permission to package explosives. Or, "may contain illegal drugs or alcohol". You have permission to ship drugs or alcohol. A person educated in the 30's, 40's or 50's would be quite confused by this poster. In one column they say this package can't be shipped; in the next, the "why" column, they tell us it may contain problematic materials. Which is it? This is one of the reasons grammar was once honored -- clear understanding.
Oh! Have you ever approached a bridge where there is a sign saying, "bridge may be icy"? The bridge has permission to be icy. (Actually, the bridge might be icy.)
-------------- Charlie (the noodge)