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Alexander Pope

The limits of fussbudgetry

The day of my first piano lesson, I picked out "Yankee Doodle," right hand only. It would be insane to start a  beginner with one of Bach's partitas or one of Lizst's Hungarian rhapsodies. One starts simply and progresses by stages as far as one's inclination, abilities, application, and instruction go. Yet in teaching writing and editing to undergraduates, I find many who have not managed to advance very far beyond the "Yankee Doodle" stage.

I fault two things: misguided instruction and the prevalence of fussbudgetry.

Schoolroom grammar, that person-place-thing stuff you may remember, is a relic of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century pedagogy, heavly...