So, Enough with Your Grammatical Pedantry

Grammar can be deliciously organic.

Many of us have pet peeves regarding word usage and/or sentence structure. Heaven knows I do. I don’t really understand why people say “irregardless” when regardless will do. Also, I feel that orient is better than orientated, and flammable is better than inflammable. Keep it simple, I say.

For the most part, I keep these peeves to myself. I mainly do so because the three irritating words I mention above can actually be found in dictionaries. Who am I to dictate your word choices, even if I think they are making you look stupid?

But the one thing I cannot abide is someone who is so anal and pedantic about grammar that they clearly have no concept of the realities of grammar at all. They overlook the fact that languages are influenced by living, breathing entities, and will therefore naturally evolve over time. If you doubt me, go read a novel by Charles Dickens or a play by Shakespeare. Even this article in the Journal of Pragmatics indicates that the “grammar of a language is not a rigid set of conventions but malleable depending on the communicative context.”

“But you can’t end a sentence with a preposition,” they’ll shout. “You just can’t!”

Uh… yes you can. In fact, I defy you to make it through the day without doing so at least once. I’ve blogged about this before, here.

I’ve also recently blogged about the increasing acceptance of the singular they (as used three paragraphs above), which has, in fact, been in regular usage since 1375. I look forward to the day when it drops off the pedant radar, because it’s starting to feel like a form of grammatical child abuse. Get over it, folks. It’s here to stay. Stop treating it as if it were an unwanted stepchild.

The latest focus of these grammar police seems to be starting sentences with the word so. They just hate that. But, as this hilarious story by NPR indicates, the word so is a reliable introductory workhorse that was used just as much 100 years ago as it is today. So… my advice would be to not get your knickers in a twist about this innocuous little word. Life is too short.

I have a theory that those who insist upon rigid grammatical rules are either wildly misinformed or, deep down, they are extremely insecure about their own intelligence or lack thereof. They attempt to feel better about themselves by acting grammatically superior. I tend to feel sorry for them, because they are depriving themselves of the richness and flexibility of true communication.

I think of grammar as something deliciously organic, not some dusty concrete block that refuses to be moved. Words should be played with to create a colorful exchange of ideas, and your palette should be diverse enough to reflect the cultural context in which you’re operating. The grammatical world is not just black and white.

I’m not saying that the Land of Grammar is the wild, wild, west, however. It’s important to properly spell your words. Good writers convey their thoughts clearly and effectively. There’s flexibility, but try not to be so flexible that you come across as if English were not your first language, or as if you barely made it through the 4th grade. Sentence structure does matter, but there are usually multiple ways in which to craft your sentence. Laziness does not equate to creativity, but flexibility certainly does.

I urge you to let your creative writer come out to play. At the very least, use a thesaurus to shake things up. And for the love of God, stop assuming that Spell Check is the arbiter of all things grammatical. It’s a program that was made by fallible human beings, after all, and it gets things wrong as often as not.

End of rant.

May your writing journey be a flexible one. Namaste.

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The Singular They

It’s been in regular usage since 1375.

Oh, I’m so happy right now! It was recently announced that the American Dialect Society has named the singular “they” as 2019’s word of the year. This auspicious body always chooses a word that reflects the way we express ourselves in the modern world, and this one is perfect.

They made this choice because of its ever-increasing use as a gender neutral pronoun. And indeed, I can think of several people in my inner circle who have chosen they as their pronoun rather than he or she. I also see they used more and more to protect identity, such as in the case of Trump’s whistleblower. These are both excellent reasons to use the singular they.

And while those things are enough to make me happy, I’m positively ecstatic that this decision has opened up a discussion of the singular they in general. In fact, it’s finding its way into more and more usage guides. I wish my favorite, the Chicago Manual of Style, would get with the program, already. The snobbery over the use of this word has long been a pet peeve of mine.

Even the esteemed Oxford English Dictionary admits that the singular “they” has been in regular usage since at least 1375. They also point out that no one complains about the use of the singular “you”. Yup. “You” is a plural pronoun just as “they” is. The singular for you is, technically, thou. But wouldn’t you feel silly saying thou? I definitely would.

I’ve always felt that most grammar snobs are hopelessly pompous in their insistence that the English language remain timeless and inflexible. Don’t even get me started about those fools who still believe you can’t end a sentence with a preposition.

In fact, I view language as a sort of living, breathing organism that shifts and grows across time and culture. That’s one of the things that I love most about it. Language is a tool that we employ to communicate clearly. It’s not a cage in which we lock ourselves.

Besides, whether they admit it or not, every single person who is reading this post has used the singular they within the past 24 hours. (See what I did there?) I guarantee it. So join me in casting aside your grammatical guilt. Let they come out to play!

Singular They

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