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NewsYou Don't Say

Laugh it off

Eighty-eight years ago H.W. Fowler gave a poke at bogus rules of English usage, writing in the "Superstitions" entry in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage about the baseless prohibitions against beginning a sentence with But and against the split infinitive. 

Bryan Garner's "Superstitions" entry in Garner's Modern American Usage covers much of the same territory, to little avail. Peeves are so firmly ingrained in bad pedagogy and usage folklore that reasonable explanations just bounce off the walls of ignorance. 

Now Mignon Fogarty has taken a different approach. Yes, Grammar Girl may have hit on a tactic that works: If you can't reason away the peeves, mock them away.

She has established Peeve Wars, a card game, the goal of which is to "amass a peeve army you use to annoy your opponent(s) to death." "Literally," "could care less," "gone missing," and "misused apostrophe" are among the cards. 

It is, to be sure, a money-making gimmick. The basic set of cards runs $30. And there is a prospect of expanding and elaborating the peeve set. You'll need to click on the link above to get an explanation. 

If, however, the deck includes a who/whom card, you may want to discard it. 

Geoffrey Pullum, writing at Language Log, explains those tiresome old rules of grammar about whom, ruefully admits that pretty much no one understands them any longer, and finally concludes that they don't matter

The reason, he explains, is that a survey by Wired magazine discovered that whom is a babe magnet. Men who used whom in online dating ads got more responses than men who did not, which provides an evolutionary basis for using whom, correctly or not. Thus, Professor Pullum concludes, the biological imperative will always trump the grammatical imperative. 

Whom would have thought it?


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