A reader of the Oklahoman newspaper recently wrote:
"I have always believed that proper grammar has been set in stone, so to speak, and that it does not change in any society, nor in any decade."
I always want to sit these people down and say, "Okay. Sure. But can you tell me something? Who set these rules in stone and, while we're at it, can you show me the stone (so to speak) of which you speak?"
I think it would take about five minutes to demonstrate to one of these people that they don't know what grammar is. As I've written before, it's not a list of rules someone once "legislated." It's analysis of how the language is used. People like this Oklahoman reader bought -- hook, line and sinker -- a long-dead teacher's long-ago spiel about absolute rights and wrongs without ever asking, "What's your source on that?"
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A commenter at Tennessean.com wrote:
"OK, I confess. I am somewhat of a grammatical snob. After all, I am a writer. ... The truth is, I have no problem with "casual" grammar. It would be a rather pretentious world if we all went around sounding like college term papers. I have even been known to occasionally split an infinitive myself. "
D'oh. Why is it that the people most willing to embrace the label of grammar snob don't even know some of the most basic facts, like there's no rule against splitting infinitives?
Plus, the idea that writers have an extraordinary grasp of grammar is silly. Perhaps the average writer is more grammar-savvy than the average stock broker, plumber, or president. But I know a lot of writers and none of them considers herself to have a good enough knowledge of grammar.
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A reader of the Amarillo Globe News recently wrote to complain that Arne Duncan, President-Elect Obama's pick for education secretary, gave thanks to those " ... who gave my sister and I ..."
Commenters on the site said this was nitpicking -- especially when you consider all the assaults on the English language committed by our current commander-in-chief. Others argued Duncan was speaking colloquially/idiomatically.
As someone who can't help but be peeved by certain objective uses of "I," I'm going to side with the letter-writer. Knowing when to use "my sister and I" versus "my sister and me" is basic stuff. It's not a nitpicky thing like whether you can use "have got" in place of plain old "have." The concept of subject and object pronouns is grammar 101 -- important stuff. I suspect Duncan's words arose out of ignorance and not conscious choice. And it seems to me that an education secretary nominee should demonstrate mastery of basic grammatical concepts.
Causes June Casagrande Supports
Planned Parenthood, ClimateCrisis.net, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Pet Orphans of Southern California, KIVA