Jonathon Owen's post at Arrant Pedantry, "12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes," has prompted some lively discussion in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter.* Someone took exception to his first point, about treating grammar in the strict sense rather than including spelling and punctuation. The objection was that he shouldn't be strict on a point at which the broad sense has become well established in the language.
A remark by Jan Freeman on Twitter is very much to the point: "I say confusing spelling entirely diff from confusing sense, not the same order of error." She also remarks on the objections to minor errors: I see it as language doomsayers' way to pad lists of Stuff We Get Wrong (and their own importance)."
The harrumphing posts online always seem to start out with it's/its and there/their/they're, as if people were too ignorant to know the difference rather that liable to the firing of the wrong neuron while typing.** It's true that these minor errors are easy to spot, brandish triumphantly, and stigmatize, but there is bigger game out there.
If you have not seen Mr. Owen's post, I commend it hearily to your attention, along with some other worthy posts that have appeared recently:
Item. Barrie England at Caxton has begun a series of posts on the technicalities of grammar. The post on morphemes is characteristically lucid. If, like me, you were equipped only with schoolroom grammar and have had to rummage around to inform yourself, this series promises to be both informative and useful.
Item. Tom Freeman, the Stroppy Editor, explains that even though the war against the split infinitive is being fought in isolated pockets, it was lost a long time ago.
Item. At Sentence First, Stan Carey writes about the phenomenon of because turning into a preposition. Example: "Of course evolution is true, because science." It is, at the moment, slangy, and it will be interesting to see whether the usage survives or evanesces.
*Not all of it enlightening. Smeone, evidently too obtuse to understand that register and audience count, trotted out that feeble old remark about descriptivists writing in standard English, as if that were somehow hypocritical.
**As those of you kind enough to point out the typos in these dispatches have noticed, I am a vile typist, and I don't have an editor.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun