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Old-Fashioned Grammar in a New Age?

Posted on September 10, 2015 at 2:00 PM

One of the biggest misconceptions of Grammar – English Grammar, at least – is that it is inflexible to the point that something always has to give and, often, shatter. Where modern speakers and writers embrace new ideas, coin neologisms and make verbs out of nouns by adding “ify” (and the like), grammarians, by nature, have to show extreme restraint, reserve and caution. We are like the bespectacled, nerdy-looking kid in a children’s TV programme who stays and pleads for caution while the rest of the group run headlong into (mis)adventure. We don’t have feet of clay, but we certainly keep our feet stuck in the clay as we stand and urge, often to little avail.


There is a reason for this. It’s not an arbitrary decision (although I’d choose to use perfect grammar even if I were the only person left doing it or the last man in the world – oh, the same thing in that context!); it is a stance we hold because we must. Anchoring our feet in proven ground, built over foundations laid down for generations, we still have eyes with which to read, ears with which to hear.


Please have a look at this portal to an article that shows just how rapidly things are changing now. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/headlines/0515/050515-english-language


Professor Sutherland’s findings shed new light on the situation. English is changing faster than ever, and we have the relentless advent of new technologies of convenience to explain it. Modern times proffer modern gizmos and software to a population with ever-increasing expectations. If you think that parents are finding it tough keeping up with their kids’ lingos, imagine how grammarians are feeling…well, reeling.


In my years as a Grammarian, I’ve found that the gulf is widening. It might not be so risky to draw a parallel to another gulf here. Modernity is presenting new challenges; where people who consider themselves good adherents of a religion may run at odds with their creed, so, too, might those who consider themselves to have a decent grasp of English grammar run against themselves at times. It is exceedingly easy to slip on your tongue or trip yourself up with little plastic keys or a ballpoint.


It is all too easy to assume that such a disconnect between grammarians and users at large creates tension. Well, you’d be right. Many grammarians and proponents of good English are marginalised. The jokes about so-called Grammar Police, Grammar Fascists and Grammar Nazis are often made with only the slightest smile. Many see us as pedantic killjoys who live only to correct, who exist only to come between people as they converse, happily not minding our own business as we tap our fingers on, say, page 158 of a book, admonishing the grammar offender, syntax blunderer, or smarmy clichest with the same condemnation a hanging judge might give to an early chewer of gum…. Hang on, did I mean that such an offender lives now, in some autocratic state and chewed his gum at four in the morning? Or, did I mean that this chewer, long since departed this world, had chewed his gum and suffered the consequences in some tumbleweed bedraggled Frontier town in the Old West? Yes, ambiguity is another offence, so I’ll put my hands up but plead the Fifth.


Ironically, modernity has intervened to save the Grammarian somewhat. Some resources define the aforementioned “Grammar Nazi” as one who relishes or delights in correcting others and lives to continue doing so, wherever and whenever. These are troublemakers who are out to make a salve for their inferiority complex by oozing criticism over the word choices of and punctuation used by the rest of us.


Happily, true Grammarians are a different breed. The dreaded black ‘G’ nestling in the white circle that inhabits a red flag is not our standard. Neither are we proselytising with missionary zeal. The salvation on offer here is pertinent to something else: your messages – namely, the power of the messages you give when you write and speak.


We can’t give you fashion advice, tips on whether to use Word or WordPerfect, or say which mouthwash can help enhance your messages as you give them, but we can help you with pretty much all of the rest.


A good, old-fashioned grasp of grammar doesn’t make you a dinosaur. It equips you to recognise that there are thousands of people just like you who know the all-important rule in the modern era. Nothing has to give, and nothing has to shatter, not least your nerves, as grating as some of the dross to be heard and read in the media is nowadays! As long as you realise that you’re using informal English, full of its endearing colloquialisms, you’ve won half the battle.


Congratulations! Oh, and keep writing safely!



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