Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thinking about the "rules" of English

I like Cracked.com. I like it because it's a funny website, and it has flashes of brilliance that make me want to always read more. And (because I love the English language so much) it's especially entertaining and gratifying to find in the article titled "7 Commonly Corrected Grammar Errors (That Aren't Mistakes)" this bit of observation ...
What we've done here is gotten right down into the trenches of a war between prescriptivist grammarians and descriptivist grammarians -- a conflict which, no matter how boring you think it sounds, is actually 10 times more boring than that. Just to give you a tiny glimpse of that boredom, I'll briefly describe both sides, probably unfairly:

Prescriptivists document the rules of grammar, and sometimes, when no one's looking, make them up entirely. They also feel the need to enforce the rules of grammar, and in particular advocate that these rules and definitions shouldn't change. They argue this for a variety of reasons, but those usually boil down to "Otherwise, civilization will evaporate into an orgy of orgy-themed game shows and fad diets that consist entirely of eating each other's flesh."

Descriptivists also document the rules of grammar, but don't particularly care when they're violated, because
fuck rules, man. And if the rules ever do change, descriptivists simply shrug and write down the new ones. They point out that civilization has never collapsed during any of the previous changes to English grammar, and indeed has even managed to excel -- giving us advances like polio vaccines, color television and sexting.

... illustrated by this:

 Chris Bucholz nails the definitions and differences between prescriptivists and descriptivists in that passage, and he rightly points out that it's largely a pointless conflict that only grammarians really care about. And he does so with generic model photos and his interpretation of cartoon background noise.

What's not to love?

1 comment:

AlanDP said...

He missed how people always misuse "only."