Warning: todays blog post may cause some of my more pedantical readers to literally explode in rage.
In my humble opinion, good writing is about many things – characterization, dialogue, description, plotting – and its often impossible to determine which is the crucial criteria. But for some people, theirs only one thing which matters: strict grammatical correctness. Now for many years, I was as proud a grammer and punctuation peddant as they come, the scourge of apostrophized plural’s wherever I found them. More recently, however, I’ve become increasingly laissez-faire. Why then have I turned to the dark side, become an apostate of the apostrophe?
Well, one reason is that many things which wind up grammar pedents aren’t really problems. Like the objection to words comprised of a mixture of Greek and Latin roots – who cares? What do you call you’re television? The proculvision? In the past, I’ve been called out for using ‘ize’ instead of ‘ise’ on the basis that ‘ize’ is ‘American’ (and therefore, inferior), when actually, its perfectly acceptable in British English, and the prestigious OED agrees with me. I’ve yet to hear anyone put forward a convincing reason why one shouldn’t be able to merrily split as many infinitives as one likes, or use a preposition to end a sentence with. And I’ll start a sentence with a conjunction if I want to. Why should ancient style guides restrict me today? Hopefully, I can express myself well enough in 21st-century English without pandering to the whims of dead grammarians.
Which brings me onto another reason: language evolves all the time, and yes, some neologisms may seem ugly and unnecessary, (I must here confess to an abject horror of the word ‘gifting’) but if other people find these words useful and elegant, and their readily understood, why should you try to artificially restrict there means of expression? And that, I think, is the heart of the matter: being picky about such things doesn’t actually help those who are less well-educated to improve there language skills, it just pisses them off, or, worse, makes them feel stupid.
Now, theres clearly a time and a place for pedantrey – when your beta-reading a manuscript for instance, or editing a press release. But in most instances, I don’t honestly think it’s called-for. Sure, if someone’s got in such a semantic twist that they’re in danger of being misunderstood, then it might be a good idea to quietly point out the difference between say, prostrate and prostate – but otherwise, if you’ve got yourself understood, then isn’t that the whole point of language? And if your genuinely so illiterate that you can’t make yourself understood in writing, then shouldn’t that be a cause for pity, for polite and understanding aid, or even for political action to improve educational standards, rather than for sneering? Between you and I, snorting in laughter at others’ ignorance of grammatical shibboleths doesn’t make you look clever. It makes you look like an over-privileged snob, chortling at the plebs who didn’t have the same good fortune as you to benefit from a decent education.