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In my editing class at Loyola University Maryland I seldom use specimens from student newspapers, because, I tell my students, finding fault with them is like fishing with dynamite—too easy to be morally sound.

But my eminent colleague @Mededitor has brought to my attention a student column defending prescriptivism that is too ripe to be ignored. From Daniel Root's "A defense of strict grammar rules and policing" in North Carolina State University's Technician:

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"The idea that language evolves to suit its users is a nice thought, but in practice this would be a nightmare. If language changed to suit the changing social paradigms, then nothing written in the previous paradigm would be decipherable in the present paradigm. All that information would be lost. Thankfully, the English language has not changed very much since the 15th century."

There is something grand about nonsense this sweeping. It ignores that the English language itself is a consequence of a "changing social paradigm," i.e., the Norman Conquest. And Mr. Root appears to be blissfully unaware that a fair amount of apparatus is required for the current reader to be able to understand Chaucer, or that extensive glosses are needed when one studies Shakespeare.

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It is not just English vocabulary that has shifted during the past six centuries but the grammar as well. You has replaced thou and thee; double negatives, which Chaucer thought perfectly fine, are no longer acceptable in formal written English; Arika Okrent has highlighted some subtle shifts in grammar that are occurring before our eyes.

This is speculation, but it appears that Mr. Root is under the impression that language is an entity apart from the people who speak and write it. But, as I've pointed out repeatedly, the vocabulary, rules of grammar, and conventions of usage of English are no more and no less than the ways its speakers and writers collectively shape it over time. Eppur si muove.

Mr. Root encourages grammar policing, though performed nicely: "Pointing out others' bad grammar is an act of gatekeeping. Without an 'English Academy,' we must police ourselves so as to ensure that our language remains useful. I just ask that such policing is done politely and with the intention of educating rather than reprimanding. Also, it is important to keep in mind that, in the case of books and newspaper articles, often the errors are the result of editors rather than the authors."

What he is advocating, in the absence of grammar police, is vigilantism. I might be a little more confident of his reliability if I had not read that howler about English being unchanged since A.D. 1400. And though he does not enumerate any of the points of grammar he would correct, I suspect that they are likely to turn out to be the collection of shibboleths, superstitions, and crotchets that other vigilantes are continually braying about.

Finally, I can't imagine where he got the idea that errors in published work are more frequently the fault of editors than writers, but it is of a piece with his other beliefs. It does, however, provide an occasion for me to quote yet again my esteemed former colleague Rafael Alvarez, who remarked a week after he had been shanghaied from being a reporter into working as an editor on the metro desk, "Reading other people's raw copy is like looking at your grandmother naked."

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