Saving Us From Grammarians: Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar @ NYT

I dislike the prescriptive grammarians who, for a writer, stifle creativity with misplaced criticisms. Yes, good writing has rules, but worrying about prepositions at the end of sentences is tiring. I for one can not get enough of these kinds of books.

Via the NY Times

Most striking is that unlike many traditional grammar books, Clark’s reserves its scolding not for students of writing, but for teachers who harbor unduly restrictive views — “members of the crotchety crowd” who “tend to turn their own preferences about grammar and language into useless and unenforceable rules.” Linguistic insecurities and peeves, once they take hold, are exasperatingly difficult to shake. Even though the first edition of Fowler’s book, released way back in 1926, unequivocally states that the proscriptions against ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives are absurd, we’re still arguing about them today, in 2010.

Clark wholeheartedly endorses breaking the commandments that make no sense, as long as in the breaking, the writing still holds up. “Prescriptive critics may condemn my recommendation that writers politely ignore the ‘crotchets’ of purists who insist on . . . rules that have little influence on the making of meaning,” he writes; those “who profess that these are violations must face the counterevidence produced in the classic works of some of our most distinguished writers.”

Although this statement is true, if you were to point out that even Shakespeare was known to split his infinitives (“Thy pity may deserve to pitied be”), end his sentences in prepositions (“I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at”) and even on occasion begin them with “but” or “and” (“But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit”), you’d be more likely to annoy the prescriptivists than you would be to convert them.

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