It ain’t me, it’s you

The Bane of My Existence?

I despise grammar Nazis.  That’s not quite true, but, “I find people who are extreme sticklers for grammar annoying, however I sorta understand where they’re coming from…I think” lacks the same sort of oomph.

If you’ve guessed that this is my take on the previously skipped “A Virtue I Abhor” you’re right.  Have a piece of cake to reward yourself (‘cause you ain’t gettin’ anything from me).

Certainly there are some instances where attention to grammar is important.  I have no qualm with such situations, it’s when people insist on sillier distinctions that frustrates me.  One ‘rule’ which particularly annoys me is the quote/quotation division.  There is nothing lost by using ‘quote’ as a noun.  Using ‘quote’ as a noun doesn’t mar comprehension, doesn’t it sound any worse, and (as an added bonus!) has fewer syllables.

Language changes.  If it doesn’t, it’s dead.  It’s no longer functional.  Of course, this isn’t a new idea.  As culture and technology evolve, language must adapt to sufficiently address our changing needs.  Granted, the quote/quotation distinction isn’t really about serving our needs (unless you count less speaking effort a need) but it does exemplify the legalistic approach some people take to language.

Let’s take a commonly held grammar rule: Never, ever, end a sentence with a preposition.  In his book The Mother Tongue: English And How it Got That Way, Bill Bryson comments that the source of this ‘rule’ is one Robert Lowth, an 18th century clergyman and amateur grammarian.

Robert Lowth: Amateur Grammarian

He penned A Short Introduction to English Grammar which was rather popular for a very long time.  Lowth suggested that sentences ending in prepositions usually sounded less graceful while noting that a sentence that finishes with a preposition was common in speech and writing.  And this is the entire basis for such a firm rule?  Other rules, such as the split infinitive stem from a desire to make English more like Latin.  If you’ve studied Latin, you’ll know that its structure is very different from English.  For starters, Latin infinitives are one freakin’ word, not two as in English.  Sure, Latin is classy, but this is neither practical nor logical.

I consider the preposition ‘rule’ (like others) more of a ‘guideline’ than an actual rule.  Proper grammar is important in certain situations to avoid ambiguity, and if it can be done with elegance so much the better.  It is this last part that is tricky, because ‘proper’ grammar as it pertains to style is subjective and all too often these guidelines are enforced for the sake of the rule rather than the intent behind that rule (that being comprehensible and beautiful use of language).  I know this because I used to be such a person.  I wanted to be right and flaunt my superior knowledge.  I wore my ‘grammar Nazi’ status as a badge of honour.

So yes, I will continue to use quote as a noun.  The occasional sentence I write may end in a preposition.  I might even split my infinitives*.  Suck it up Buttercup.

*Careful readers may have noticed that I have done at least one of these in this essay.

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