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

How we talk about grammar when we talk about grammar

I have participated in any number of online discussions of English grammar and usage, many of them thoughtful and informative. But quite a few fall into this depressing pattern:

1. Someone (A) posts a dogmatic assertion about some point of usage, often a shibboleth or superstition, looking for affirmation. Think hostility to singular they, irritation at irregardless, scorn for terminal prepositions or split infinitives, annoyance at how the Young People talk, or any of the other familiar crotchets.

2. Someone (B) calmly points out that the issue is more complex, citing evidence or a standard authority, particularly when a shibboleth or classroom superstition is involved.

3. (A) gets their back up at being challenged and reaffirms their unsupported assertion in stronger terms.

4. Others (C), (D, ( E), &c. join the discussion, offering further evidence and authorities, attempting to explain.

5. (A), who has never gone beyond flat assertion, begins to use terms such as "lazy," "uneducated," "ignorant," "lowest common denominator," &c. (A’s) responses suggest that what is at work here is an effort to establish social status through what is imagined to be superior or “correct” English.

6. (B), (C), (D), (E), &c. challenge that attitude. Somewhere in this scrum I join in. I am an irritable person with the sharp tongue my mother bequeathed me, and exasperation is hard to curb. (A) detects the sound of steam escaping under pressure.

7. (A) complains of being ganged up on and bullied, and flounces off.

8. (B), (C), (D), (E), &c. begin to reflect on what a titanic waste of time this discussion has been and speculate on the origin of the catchphrase “Bye, Felicia.”

Really, people who are looking to establish a superior social status through English usage would be better advised to resort to the traditional methods: joining country clubs, wearing clothing bearing designer logos, purchasing large, vulgar automobiles, and the like.

The method (A) uses merely annoys people. Don't be like (A). 

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
75°