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

A purist walks into a bar: A Grammarnoir episode

The Baltimore Sun

I’m sitting in the bar, enjoying a quiet pint of Smithwick’s, when this nimrod wearing a red Make America Grammatical Again cap comes through the door and sits down on the stool next to me.

“I’ll have a lite beer,” he tells the bartender.

Figures, I think.

“What’s your game?” he turns and asked me.

“Mainly annoying people online. Used to be an editor at a newspaper, until the bottom fell out of the paragraph scam.”

He gives me a look like a copy editor checking his buyout eligibility. “Bunch of kids who can’t write English,” he says. “Paper’s not worth a tinker’s damn anymore.”

“Not since I left. At least, that’s what everybody who jumps ship says.”

Before he could tell me more about how newspapers operate, a woman in a red dress as tight as a publisher’s purse strings comes in, walks up to the bar, and says, “Just a quick glass of white, Sean. Me and Teddy are going dancing tonight.”

I see the MAGA moke curl his lip like a reporter told to write the annual fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk feature. “Did you hear that?” he asks, his voice rising. “What did I tell you? No one can distinguish subject pronouns from object pronouns any longer. Grammar is gone.”

“Not quite so,” says a quiet voice from the other end of the bar. “It’s not appropriate for standard English, of course, but coordinate accusatives follow identifiable grammatical patterns in non-standard English. ‘Me and someone’ as a subject occurs more frequently than ‘someone and me,’ and ‘I and someone’ almost never occurs. You can read about it at Language Log.”

The MAGA galoot wags his empurpled wattles and asks, “Who the hell are you? And who died and made you Noah Webster?”

“Easy there, big fella,” I say. “You’re dealing with Mark Liberman, Trustee Professor of Phonology in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“A linguist!” he spits, like a sports editor finding a polysyllable in a football story. “Another anything-goes, coddle-the-ignorant, hoity-toity, holier-than-thou academic libtard.”

“I kinda like him,” the woman in the red dress says. “He seems nice.”

“You stay out of this,” the MAGA clotpoll says. “You’re just another drop in the wave of ignorance washing over the English language, too stupid to identify whom in this decadent age can speak and write properly.”

I stand up and say to him, “That’ll be enough, Jake. You have insulted a lady, you have been rude to a distinguished professor, and you have used whom in a clause where it is the subject. You can leave now, or I’ll ask the bartender to call the Grammar Police, or maybe make a citizen’s arrest myself.”

He slinks out of the saloon like an intern caught copying from Wikipedia.

“Barkeep,” I say, “a round for the house. And see what the editors in the back room will have.”

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