Grammar Nazis: Useful Language Experts, Or Elitist Snobs?

from the well-this-ought-to-be-fun dept

I know that my grammar is not ideal, though I really do strive to get the basics right. There are times, however, when I feel that the strict "rules" that are put forth by grammar go too far. If the text makes the point in a way that people can understand, what is the problem? On top of that, there's the utter snobbishness with which some (no, not all!) grammar aficionados put down anyone who makes a silly mistake. I have no problem with someone letting me know about a typo or a grammatical problem in a friendly and useful manner -- but all too often the message is delivered in the tone suggesting that making such an elementary grammatical error suggests that I obviously never made it out of the second grade. So I'm glad to see an English professor taking on the grammar nazis.

Salon is running a review of a new book by English professor Jack Lynch, called The Lexicographer's Dilemma, which argues that grammar nazis should chill out. Grammar rules are mostly to make people feel elite, not to make them any clearer, according to the book. Again, I have no problem with basic grammar rules for the sake of clarity, but focusing too much on the rules over the clarity is a mistake, and it's nice to see at least some "experts" agreeing.

Filed Under: english, grammar, language


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2009 @ 9:46am


    If I'm not mistaken, the reason the second way is better is because it's in the active voice, and the first is in the passive voice (in the first, the verb is "to be", in the second, it's "end"). I think I'm right about that anyway.... if so, that would make the example contrived because it actually has nothing to do with ending a sentence with a preposition, which is on its own perfectly fine.


    No, there's no passive voice there, just an extra clause making things more complicated than they needed to be: the point was that trying to "correct" the preposition at the end could lead to better writing, even if the preposition wasn't really itself the problem.

    A passive voice version might be something like "A sentence should never be ended with a preposition" (which is probably even worse writing).

    I think passive voice is actually a far better example of the sort of thing I was talking about. I had at least one English teacher who told us that using the passive voice was wrong and that we weren't allowed to do it. Of course, in fact the passive voice is a useful part of the English language, but in many cases using the passive voice isn't the best way to say something, and that English teacher forced students to pay attention to that.

    (Of course, I don't think most "grammar nazis" on the internet are really so interested in improving anyone's writing; it's more just another example of the various trash-talking that people wouldn't do in person but can let out on the internet with little fear of any consequences...)

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