Thursday, November 8, 2007

Grammar Police

The other night I dreamed I was explaining grammatical rules to someone. Actually, I was explaining how there are rules, rules, and rules. There are rules that someone in the past made up and—if I abide by them at all—I pay attention to them only because other people would think poorly of me if I break them, and language is nothing if not conventional. Generally, all the big, bad grammar rules your teacher used to yell at you about fall into this category. Then there are rules that are good, have basis, and I follow them sometimes. After all, rules are made to be broken. Finally, there are real rules that, when you broken them, you're no longer talking English. If you're a native speaker, you've probably internalized these rules and breaking one just wouldn't occur to you. When I woke up from my dream, I was explaining this to someone, and I pointed out that it didn't matter if you explained, for instance, why the rule about split infinitives is bogus. Those who like rules are going to insist that all these rules must be followed at all costs. Some people just can't handle the freedom, I guess. (Of course, any discussion of faux grammar rules is incomplete without mentioning the phrase attributed to Winston Churchill (falsely): "This is the kind of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put!" Unfortunately, this refers to ending a sentence with a preposition, not split infinitives.) Against my better judgment, I ask: does anyone else here dream about grammar? The resounding silence reinforces how strange I am,

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