National Grammar Day, March 4, is almost upon us, and as you make your preparations, I have a few resolves to offer you.
Item: If you have not shed the Principal Superstitions (stranded prepositions, split infinitives, split verbs, coordinate conjunctions introducing sentences, none as singular only, the bogus over/more than and since/because distinctions), drop them over the side now, and have no truck with anyone who still adheres to them.
Item: Ease up on singular they. It has been around since Chaucer was in grammar school, and it’s not going away. We need an epicene third-person, singular pronoun, and they is it, by historical precedent, by example from reputable writers, by evidence from current published usage. Accept no substitutes; scores have been invented, and not one has ever taken. Hold the line in the most formal writing if you must, but it’s time to face reality.
Item: Do not aspire to be a grammar Nazi, and don’t indulge people who use the term. Nazis are not funny unless you are Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks. You are not Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks.
Item: Stop railing about it’s for its. It’s a spelling error, for Fowler’s sake, not a sin against the Holy Ghost.
Item: It is not your job to correct misused apostrophes or other errors in signage. Resist the temptation. You may, however, continue to ridicule rococo language and faux French in menus and food and fashion writing, since pretension is always a fair target.
Item: Correcting other people’s spoken grammar or pronunciation is gauche, unless the person has invited you to do so and you do so discreetly and tactfully. Also, keep in mind that English has many dialects, each with distinctive properties. Let a hundred flowers bloom.
Item: You are not to describe any novelty or solecism in English usage as a threat to civilization. Climate change and Muslim and Christian theocrats threaten civilization. Try to keep a sense of proportion.
Now that you have accomplished these things, you can awake with a light heart on National Grammar Day at the sound of the first minute gun from the Citadel, attend the Te Deum at the Duomo, watch the fireworks at the Embankment, and dance the night away at the Semicolon Ball at the Ducal Palace. Be of good cheer.