It is arguably the oldest debate of the modern era, or perhaps it’s the most cyclical, continuous debate of bygone eras certain to set people to squabbling, insisting they are right, correct, somehow better than someone with a slightly different view, and no we’re not talking about religion, politics, how to solve the crisis in the middle east, combat terrorism or how to bring back the evaporating American middle class. We’re talking about, taking on something on a much smaller scale; at issue, language and those who know how to use it versus those who many would claim are bent on destroying it. You know them often referred to today as grammar Nazis, elitists; going about the internet, their brick and mortar world ever complaining about people who are, to their estimation, so uneducated as not to know the difference between your and you’re, there, their and they’re, two and to or too, it’s and its, worse too uncaring to bother. A particular source of consternation in today’s education debate decrying everything from phonics to Ebonics, poorly functioning schools, let’s not forget text speak and internet lingo, slang and short hand blamed for youth, emerging adults who cannot spell, write well, who continue to make what they believe are the most egregious mistakes in the English language. People who are absolutely apoplectic if you dare start a sentence with a conjunction, even common ones such as and or but, who will wag their finger at you if you end a sentence with a preposition, tell you to go back to English class, wonder if you graduated high school, denigrate the standards present at the college level if you happen to hold a degree, independent of if it was as far removed from English as it could be. Citizens always pointing out the misuse of the apostrophe, adherence to grammar regulations bordering on obsession and compulsion, yammering about spit infinitives, dangling modifiers, fond of accusing the uneducated populous of going so far as to make up words; no, not Doh, that famous exclamation from the Simpsons, muggle from Harry Potter or the dreaded term selfie being used at every turn, all but the latter having made it into the latest edition of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) incidentally. Those are pop culture references beneath their comment, to be ignored at all costs; they instead going after something much more mundane and thoroughly discussed regardless, versus irregardless, when to use which word, is the latter even word? Non- native speakers willing to get up on their soapboxes swearing they have a better command of English than individuals speaking, writing it all their lives disgusted with how Americans abuse their native tongue. Still in all their haughty superiority, in all their kvetching you have to wonder if they have up and missed the very point, purpose of language expression, communication?
In today’s world of common core, college sports cheating scandals exposing students who can’t write a paragraph and who need help sounding out Wisconsin, with the advent of the internet and only being able to size up a person by their writing, class warfare brought on by decades of stagnating wages, economic factors culminating in the great recession, mixed with intrinsic factors, regional dialects and so forth it has long become acceptable to judge people’s intelligence, education, attitude, fitness for employment, damn near their worthiness to be in society at all, to breathe the same air you do, by how they speak and spell. Beyond the criticisms leveled at the southern drawl, the California twang, the Bostonian accent, many dwellers in urban areas, who also happen to be African American are systematically denigrated for their use of Ebonics, their non-standard, informal cultural slang pinpointed as the reason they can’t get a job, are on welfare, food stamps, live in the ghetto using phrases like where he go, you aint exc. And when one school dared to incorporate it into the curriculum, one garners a sneaky suspicion as much as an education tool for teachers, fellow Caucasian, other ethnicity students to better understand their classmates’ culture, cultural identity, teachers to better communicate with their students, than to lower the standard, they caught no end of backlash. Never mind the mispronunciations whether they come from Ebonics, regional accents or from just plain bad habits may indeed not be mispronunciations at all, just slight variations; looking closely at the video above you see that mischievous pronounced with two long e sounds mis-chee-vee-us vs., two short I sounds mis-chiv-us might be done so, here’s another eye-popping concept, wholly unorthodox to grammar sticklers, to imitate similar sounding words. As editor for one of the most prominent dictionaries explained the long e version gives you rhyming words where the other does not, useful in poetry; where nuclear, everyone would like it pronounced new-clear, how many times did George W. Bush find himself being made fun of for the opposing pronunciation, may be trying to conform to words like circular, molecular. Hmm kind of takes the wind out of the grammar Nazis sails doesn’t it, at least it should proving it has nothing to do with intelligence, education level and their hallmark maxim of pronouncing them their way because it reflects spelling doesn’t even mostly hold water; the examples listed through, rough being only two. Identically phonics is deemed the root of poor spelling because students are being taught to write words how they sound not rote memorization of how things are spelled; combine in people who don’t pronounce and enunciate correctly with the “failure” that is phonics and you have the “abysmal” spellers seen today. Completely unconsidered, especially since generations over the last 30 plus years have been hearing the same exasperated pronouncements showing no signs of stopping regarding common English language usage errors, the fact that most grammar rules, spelling fundamentals never made any sense in the first place. Perhaps rather than screaming spell check and auto correct are making us all stupid, lazy and complacent, exact words from one college student who proudly recounted her winning of her 3rd grade spelling bee in an article detailing we have become too dependent on such aids who also described herself as nearly psychotic about grammar, we should create spelling rules that make sense; spelling receive re-see-ve solves so many more problems than remembering I before E. Not to mention the “rules’” thousand exceptions the rest of that saying goes except after C or when sounding like A in neighbor and weigh; end result, are we really surprised no one can spell anything accurately with a zillion rules, a zillion exceptions and 3 zillion more opinions chiming in? Spelling breathe Breeth or eath and breath breth would be far better than chewing the writer of the ABC news story about a teacher who showed up for her first day of work drunk wearing no pants, a new one for confusing the two, quoting the badly spelled police report without including the [Sic] designation indicating the misspelling belongs to the original author, when we hire cops to apprehend criminals, keep people safe not teach English classes and be perfect typists. Contemplate Segway the mobility apparatus, name patented by and American vs. segue to transition from one subject to another; there is no contest which one is easier to decipher. Segway and segue also show us more than just silly Americans attempting to dumb things down, but what the language would look like, arguably should look like when based on current spoken evolutionary format instead of following Latin roots, Germanic influences and long dead writers of the first grammar books, dictionaries. Support for this already found in that we have U.K. English color spelled colour vs. the American English color; why can’t we complete our transition to American spelling for American words, American usage, holding even firmer ground considering many immigrants learning to speak the language in the process of garnering a better life are coming here. Yes we are a melting pot that has finished its melting and aren’t we tried of trying to channel Latin, French, German, Spanish; isn’t it time we owned our individually, independence linguistically as well? Until then answering grammar Nazis when they can better sort out through, though, thorough, maybe then we’ll talk.
Or better yet, when we finally understand that many things older persons circa the 1950’s, a decade everyone wants to return to, were taught, when we still had strict nuns smacking children’s knuckles, didn’t elevate kids to the next grade worried about their self-esteem, and all related drivel spouted about the evils of now compared to the wonders of yesteryear, were trends in English grammar as opposed to hard and fast rules of English grammar; meaning yes we can start sentences with a conjunction, just ask famous writers, speech makers well-known names on par with William Falkner, W.E.B. Du Bois and John F. Kennedy. Those being just the American examples; Britain’s do the same have for decades if not centuries. We can and we do end sentences with prepositions, opposition to which was started by one John Dryden critiquing William Shakespeare, more for its overuse than its general use, immortalized in the tongue and cheek comment of Winston Churchill. Amazing too just how many of the tenets holding up the foundations of how sentences, grammar and punctuation are to be constructed come from individuals who knew little about what they were doing to begin with including a 17th century man anonymously publishing a usage book who, “knew little Latin, less Greek (two root languages for many words making it into English vocabulary) owned no books, had no educated friends to run his ideas by” and openly admitted to basing a fair smattering of his guidelines almost singularly on person tastes. Ever get flummoxed and confused as to the apostrophe S marking possession, wonder why it seems odd; well that’s because it is, detailed in this well circulated account from a grammar rule debunker, “First let’s all join in a hearty curse of the grammarians who inserted the wretched apostrophe into possessives in the first place. It was all a mistake. Our ancestors used to write “Johns hat” meaning “the hat of John” without the slightest ambiguity. However, some time in the Renaissance certain scholars decided that the simple “s” of possession must have been formed out of a contraction of the more “proper” “John his hat.” Since in English we mark contractions with an apostrophe, they did so, and we were stuck with the stupid “John’s hat.” [Sic] Still there were a pair of young men who made the news for going around the country correcting every misbegotten apostrophe they could find, willing to climb barbed wire fences, traverse uncomfortable cacti all to change a sign advertising scenic beauty and advising tourists to bring their camera’s, no apostrophe needed; who even landed themselves in court and had to pay a hefty fine for vandalism in the name of correcting an errant apostrophe, adding a comma to a sign at the Grand Canyon, hopefully picking up a valuable lesson about asking permission before pulling out their sharpie, crayon, white-out. Don’t these “ordinary guys” have jobs? Then writing a book about their exploits beginning with a no trespassing sign with trespass spelled with an extra s in tress; forget if the person is either too young to read past the first grade, too illiterate or unfamiliar with English they won’t know what it means anyway. People who do are usually too concerned with the meaning to notice, never mind care, about the extra S. Business signs are routinely “misspelled” for originality, to distinguish well known town names such a Phoenix usually AZ from Iowa or because the standard, traditional spelling has already been copyrighted; one perfectly reasonable explanation for Milwaukee spelled Milwaukie. It really doesn’t matter if the sign is spelled restroom’s when they really meant restrooms, to the person who just really needs a toilet, has a toddler in the back seat squealing they need to go. And the sign about cameras had a much bigger problem in attracting the wanted public attention, its old age, obvious disrepair, only accentuated by the Typo Squad Investigators, yes they gave themselves a “cool” sounding name, suddenly created gap where the comma was. Have you heard of a split infinitive, been told not to let words, usually adverbs, come between to and its verb, had everyone from English teachers to editors take issue with phrases like to really succeed, to boldly go…you have thus become a victim of another common grammar mistake morphed by time into a rule. Knowledgeable grammarians studying the language as it is rather than the history of trying to compare it to Latin, German are quick to tell us the idea of a split infinitive is a misnomer because English doesn’t possess an infinitive verb form the way French does. “French succéder is a single word, but English to succeed is not; it’s two words.” Oh maybe that’s the problem; got to love this comment on a blog discussing the same subject, demonstrating how stuffy, long dead and forgotten grammarians would prefer writers word their sentences, “Adequately to judge this girl” doesn’t even sound like real English anymore; it sounds like Yoda,” ironically someone they wouldn’t dare pick apart.
Further people ascribing to this demeaning of their fellow citizen, their fellow communicator, their fellow language user have a deceptively simple view of grammar rules, apt to think the most basic ones are the only ones available, addressing sentence structures, the simplest ones are the only ones used; i.e. the most complicated sentences persons are likely to encounter read: the dog ran; the dog ran across the street. Realities we know are not in evidence; our amateur grammarian extraordinaire public would probably pop a vein analyzing this: One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know, go cross-eyed interpreting this: Anyone who feels that if so many more students whom we haven’t actually admitted are sitting in on the course than ones we have that the room had to be changed, then probably auditors will have to be excluded, is likely to agree that the curriculum needs revision. Those were all grammatically correct and correctly punctuated by the way. But we’re all somehow intelligence deficient, shouldn’t have passed the second grade if we are the slightest bit confused, can’t diagram a sentence to their satisfaction or adequately, by their standard, conjugate a verb. If after years of trying to wade the maze of morass our teachers put us through for the love of centuries old mistakes, we hung it up and decided we couldn’t care less not because it was too complex and we’re too stupid, but because it was purposely made too complicated by select individuals trying to make the language into something it wasn’t trying to make themselves appear better than they were, a mirror of the problem were having today with grammar Nazis who, quite frankly, need to find something better, more productive to do. Seemingly lost on the grammar happy is, that between introductory commas, commas separating items, phrases in a series, commas joining independent and dependent clauses, a comma and a conjunction joining two sentences, commas cordoning off interrupters, demarcating non-essential information in a sentence combined with the other most popular punctuation, the semi colon joining two short, but they don’t have to be, independent clauses, writers soon take stock they can’t seem to write/type two words without “rules” demanding punctuation be inserted demolishing what they were supposed to provide, clarity. Almost any sentence being far more clear if simply beginning with a capital letter ending in as punctuation mark only commas found separating items in a series. Continuing in grammar purgatory are those who believe people are obliged to talk the way they write, always in a formal writing style, which is as ridiculous as it is virtually impossible, cringing if someone, when asked how they are in a casual conversation, says they are good instead of well. One person on a no doubt conservative website advertising how to get the most out of free public education, doubtlessly also frequented by older society members so busy agreeing with Fox news they haven’t stopped to lift their noses up long enough to notice the world isn’t the way Bill O’Riley, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck say it is, chronicled her question why people speaking in English start sentence with me, me and so and so did this or that; don’t they know it should be [name here] and I? Going on to list hearing it from uneducated T.V. actors, bank managers, talk show hosts, weather men, reporters, Jeopardy contestants and those who are supposed to be educated with post-graduate degrees; declaring me is the object form of I, putting forth a list of phrases you would never hear people say, Me will help you program your weather radio. Me has uncovered new facts. Me met my wife in Rome. Me will be happy to help you, mystified as to why people can’t get it right.
What they missed is that all their examples introduced a single person doing something, engaging in an activity for someone else, not two people doing something together, sharing in the same feeling exemplified in a commenter’s example bemoaning an episode of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Falon, where he spoke about his new baby saying “me and my wife are so happy; the rest of her comment went as follows, “ I learned in GRADE SCHOOL (in the 50′s, when we actually learned something), not in high school or college, to separate the two subjects: “I am so happy” and “My wife is so happy.” Then combine them: “My wife (it’s more polite to mention the other person first and yourself last) and I are so happy.” Except most people have never heard that, myself included, less because it wasn’t taught and more because they teach it differently now; a 3rd person wondered, “Do you suppose it’s related to the phenomenon of intelligent, well-educated people using “I” as an object? I hear (and see on the internet) things like, “This is very important to Bob and I,” all the time, though they would never say or write, “This is very important to I.” Though assuming the editor at large at Merriam Webster knows what he’s talking about, you can and should in some cases use I as the object, in other words subject. Our 1950’s [name here] and I person may have been incorrect too according to his examples “would you like to come to lunch with Noah and me” is the correct way to ask that particular question. Me and insert name or person’s title should be the standard way of referring to you and another person in a sentence; me and Jane went to the store, exactly because it includes two people in the subject, accounts for dialog used heavily in fiction and has become the natural way of speaking. Even he says sentences like me and my friends went to the beach are unlikely to be criticized, please tell the people above, while cautioning us to keep it out of formal writing. Yet here again it isn’t common in formal writing; the better way to word me and the committee met on Tuesday in an e-mail to your boss, would be to say I met with the committee on Tuesday, disclose subject matter, include key contributions of each person present avoiding the conundrum altogether. Worth mentioning also, Jimmy Falon is a late night comedian not to be confused with a Rhodes Scholar, Jeopardy contestants are people too, combed from all walks of life, as are talk show hosts, most assuredly their guests appearing for a variety of reasons, the show Numbers also highlighted for geniuses with shaky pronouns, was primarily about unusually practical uses for advanced math, bank managers and other such entities rely heavily on their people skills, relatability in their jobs accounting for their largely spoken informality found in casual, not formal conversation, and nobody’s perfect.
Equally fascinating that the typewriter generation has never heard of a typo; suddenly being sad, angry, tired, frustrated, in a hurry has never caused them to hit a T when they needed a Y, an E when they needed an R. Never caused them to fail to notice they missed a word making their sentence look stupid; that’s surely how the children of a now famous mom who went on strike to teach her unruly, selfish teens a lesson ended up with apology signs reading thanks for washing our close, their aunt having to twist their arm to create them, upset about being forced to do so nothing to do with it; they are just hood rats destined for welfare, sure. And that quickly became the story via the comment section, not when parents make their parenting needlessly famous or, infamous. While we’re on the subject let’s pause a moment to discuss the absurd construction of the computer keyboard, letters, punctuation symbols and computer function keys set up in a hodgepodge manner no closer to easily making words than flower and water is solely going to create a fruitcake, mandating you take typing lessons learning to engage all 10 fingers on both hands to become proficient in the task, when we know a majority of humans have a dominate hand, right or left, with which they have greater mobility, dexterity; have big hands, long fingers you’re even more likely to type re when you want we, hit the semi colon when you want the L [ when you want a P; however, it’s the user, not said maker who is likely to be told they should be riding the short bus, slang for calling them developmentally delayed because they mistyped something. Grossly overrated how many people mistakenly equate the ability spell and punctuate efficiently with the ability to type well and expediently; which even in the computer age is not always a guarantee. Next to certainly guaranteed, on the internet you will find a laundry list of abbreviations, slang and yes people unconcerned about typos on Facebook pages that don’t belong to their employer, are not used to secure a job, are meant for pure enjoyment, long distance communication with loved ones, family member; such usage recognizes time and place that it isn’t a job interview, a résumé a cover letter, business, legal correspondence mattering far less than select individuals would like to believe. Much more interesting than grammar Nazism, that the typewriter generation originators of the typo, 21st century, computers or no, still hasn’t put together the difference between too, and to is a lead finger or too light a finger on a keyboard, same with the bosses harping “most people they get résumés from can’t create a sentence without a significant error,” and by error we can infer one of the mistakes, non-rules detailed throughout, doling out grammar tests to work at their establishment, for jobs that require a miniscule amount of writhing, being sure you can tell the difference between it’s and its, sick of reading e-mails with off when you meant of. Those same bosses, editor exc. who are still hearing the ghosts of their English teacher telling them irregardless isn’t a word, flat adverbs aren’t really adverbs it’s drive safely not drive safe, don’t say their own photo, it’s his or her own photo. Even when you end up with sentences like this: everyone should do his or her best in whatever situations he or she finds himself or herself in- huh? To say nothing of with all the double letters found in words it was bound to happen double P’s L’s S’s D’s E’s R’s; it goes on and on and on probably making foreign learners of English think Americans, any English speaker, stutters horribly. Try to use spell check, grammar checking software; well, remember above the quote about John’s hat, it thinks that’s a fragment because of the quote marks, “being black in America feels like having nothing,” another fragment lord knows why since it has a subject, a verb, and whether you agree with it, are compelled to ask why, it is a complete thought. It treats subject verb agreement, much to the frustration of creative writers, like you are writing a thesis when you are not, will treat you to the same 4 sentence explanation of the concept instead of, on an internet connected computer, direct you to sentences using the green underlined words in contention, if you dare start one sentence with the word neither and your next sentence with or it will tell you, “Some words work together in pairs, such as “both/and,” “either/or,” and “neither/nor.” It is incorrect to interchange the parts of these different pairs.” I think at this point we can easily ask who says you can’t interchange these pairs, and what exactly makes it unclear about doing so especially if, as in the example given, one of the pair ended a sentence, another began the next sentence with a punctuation mark, not a semi colon, comma and conjunction joining two complete thoughts/sentences?
Enter Steven Fry, British writer, comedian, presenter and activist, fast becoming my hero, whose answer to grammar pedants, another word for nitpicking, hairsplitter Nazis undoubtedly got the world’s attention and brought out some homegrown truths one can’t ignore about language itself along with its rule clinging supposed scholars. Besides his overall message being the sophisticated, British version of chill out, utterly blasting such strict use of language is for the sake of clarity, enhancing communication, appearing literate, educated and intelligent; he heartily wishes, as does anyone whose even been on the business end of a “grammar Nazi,” people doing all the complaining would demonstrate the creativity of their “lower” counterparts, would get excited about language in some other fashion than rude letters to broadcasters, one can reasonably include angry comments on social media, comments on web-based news stories taking apart what the author has presented the public about what is going on across the globe, across the pond, though not expressly mentioned. He correctly articulated people’s resistance to changes in grammar, spelling, meaning, punctuation being its newness and that those shouting loudly don’t like it, dismissing it too has a reason to shun originality. He pegged such pedants as having more time to criticize than write poems or love letters, novels or stories; I wholeheartedly agree asserting it’s because they can’t. They don’t possess the abstractness of thought, the creativity to attempt a single poem forget becoming poet laureate, can’t bring forth from themselves an original paragraph, are daunted by a novel, independent of if they are trying to imitate J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King. He is absolutely on target in his sharp tongued assessment exactly no one misunderstands what 5 items of less means, we can again thank the 17th century gentleman who knew little Latin, less Greek owned no books and had no learned friends for that too, hmm- I’m thinking of a particular finger arranged in a particular gesture, saying you would have to be a complete dolt not to grasp the context of disinterested in the proper sense of non-partisan vs. disinterested as in uninterested, a distinction that must either belong to European English or is quickly falling out of fashion, seeing the former is rarely heard anymore. Highlighting another commonality amongst grammar fiends, it isn’t that they didn’t understand what someone was trying to say, meant to write, regularly spend an extra 45 minutes trying to decode co-worker, employee, friend e-mails, important documents, they immediately understand it enough to begin taking it apart in the worst way making their words an equally null and void soundless gong falling on nonsense deafened ears. Grammar pedants can also stop pretending they have never heard a slang term in their life that crash is another term for a place to stay or a place to sleep, that even the Ebonics terms are not so unheard of as not to be understood by people willing to do more than blatantly refuse to bother; isn’t that what they accuse the rest of us of? To amend an old phrase, pot calling the kettle black, much?