An article in The Wall Street Journal goes on about "bad grammar" in the workplace and quotes someone raving about the Oxford comma and Bryan Garner's dislike of "I could care less." William B. Lawrence, dean and professor of American church history at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, takes up the cudgel and execrates data and media used as singulars. Tom Chivers of The Telegraph has some fun with a C of E vicar who thinks that ordinary literary competence has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.*
Upon examination, these complaints turn out to be the customary farrago of minor errors, superstitions, and private prejudices. Since there is so much bad advice out there, let me clue you to warning signs that should lead you to move on as soon as they surface.
Complaints about the young: The young are no good, and they never were. They're sloppy, they speak in some incomprehensible private dialect, they don't respect conventions or their elders. I must say that I think texting at table indicates lack of respect for the company, but I don't imagine that it is going to destroy English. Mainly, the complaint about the young is that the complainers themselves are no longer young.
Complaints about the decay of English: English has got a lot of decay left in it. We don't write like Sir Thomas Browne or Macaulay, but that doesn't mean that English is a goner.
Complaints about casual usage: American English has grown perceptibly less formal over the past century and more. A newspaper article from the 1940s will display vocabulary and syntax much more formal that a typical newspaper article today. That may disappoint people who like formality, but it doesn't mean that the language has grown incapable of functioning.
Complaints about jargon: There's something there. Jargon, like slang, is insider language, meant to keep you out. It's useful for people in the field but annoying when inflicted on civilians. Then, too, a lot of it is misleading. Growing the business is a management catchphrase that I have been hearing for twenty years. In the newspaper business. Sometimes you have to penetrate the surface to the underlying meaning. Growing the business is a set of sounds to sooth the listener while hedge fund hirelings strip the assets.
Complaints about vogue usages: This is idle. Vogue usages eventually go out of vogue. They either become obsolete or take a place in the ordinary ranks. If they irritate you, tune them out.
Complaints about split infinitives, stranded prepositions, the passive voice: These come from uninformed people brandishing shibboleths and superstitions. They are only dangerous when you work for such people and are compelled to truckle to their absurd misapprehensions. You should also avoid people who admire Strunk and White; it ain't Holy Writ.
It's a jungle out there. Watch out.
*Where did the clergy get the power to bind and loose over English usage? Some private illumination from the Holy Ghost not vouchsafed to the laity?Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun