You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

Two good rules

The Baltimore Sun

The Editors’ Association of Earth, a public Facebook group in which I participate occasionally, has adopted two salutary guidelines for discussion. Its “things-not-to-do” list now includes these:

“Posts/comments that refer to non-standard, informal or dialect words as uneducated use.

“Posts/comments that are derogatory about language from regions/countries other than what you believe to be standard.”

Professional editors (and other people who have been properly educated) understand that English has many dialects, that no dialect of English is “more correct” or “more proper” than the others, and that the one we call standard English is best understood as being more useful or more appropriate in certain contexts and occasions.

Making a public fuss about it’s for its, confusion of their with there or they’re, or the grocer’s apostrophe usually amounts to no more than an effort to establish the speaker’s intellectual and social superiority. It’s misguided to make trophies out of such small game.

As to regional language, I had the pleasure of attending the announcement of the completion of the fifth volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English, which is a huge repository of regional and rural expressions. It is a tribute to the richness and originality of the native language free from the strictures of imagined correctness and propriety.

We’re better off when we allow people to talk and write as they are inclined, apart from formal occasions, without any tut-tuttery or unsolicited lecturing.

If you must be derogatory, and we all harbor the dark impulse, there are better targets: the peeververein in their obsession with imaginary rules and bogus standards, or people who purport to be professional writers but put out shoddy prose without evident embarrassment. And there’s always Dan Brown. Have at them.

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