Dinosaurs and Relics- Our Evolving Language

I may need smelling salts

I may need smelling salts

While we tend to bemoan the modern curricula of the Western world for lack of attention to creative or even casual everyday communications skills, some of what the fossil generation learned in class is actually obsolete.  You may want to sit down. My own mother would have developed palpitations hearing what I am about to tell you, and admittedly it makes me somewhat squeamish, but language is evolving. Like it or not.

I am not the first writer/editor to publish this information. A quick Google search for grammar rules will find  dozens more, some more convincing than others. Most of the change which is based on logic is accepted eventually. Emotional arguments land on deaf ears because getting hot under the collar is perceived as irrational if not unstable. No one is ever more convincing just by upping the volume and using menacing body language.

Once a rule, always a rule?

Please consider some of the rules now felt to be archaic. I was drilled in these in school until they became part of my very being. Now it takes radical, invasive mental surgery to dislodge them. Are you ready?

  1. A sentence must never end with a preposition.

Language has entertaining uses, creative and artistic uses, but day to day communication should be clear and easily understood.

Example: “From where did the envelope come?”

Do real people speak that way anymore? Some forms of speech need to be retired along with words such as thee, thou and thine. There is nothing wrong with asking “Where did the envelope come from?” Sit down and put your head between your knees if you are feeling faint.

  1. Sentences must not begin with and, but, so, nor, or.

Great writers have always been graded on a curve for creatively breaking such rules. It is called literary license and is often used in verse. Most of us are not considered to be great writers and we suffer from blue pencil overload. (In case you are too young to remember, editors used to edit actual paper manuscripts using a language of official signs, and usually wielding a blue pencil.) The truth is, no such rule exists or ever existed according to the Chicago Manual of Style.

  1. A paragraph must have more than one sentence.

A paragraph completely expresses an idea. Is that impossible in one sentence? A one sentence paragraph is very effective if the author wants something to stand out dramatically. For instance:

Failure to comply will result in prosecution.

  1. Akin to #3 is A sentence must have more than one word.

Really? Why?  (I know, those are questions, but the point is made.)

  1. One rule that seems to be disappearing applies to using “they” as gender neutral SINGULAR. (Oh, pass the smelling salts!)  I have spent much editing time attempting to educate writers to use he or she, or even he/she where “they” are using they. I have criticized other editors for allowing that to pass. This one is particularly painful for me.

How my clients react to this state of affairs may be determined by their ages. If they are under fifty, adding  ‘s to everything will just come naturally. I have a couple of ‘over sixty-fives’  who are going to struggle with it and I am not sure I have the conviction to enforce it.


4 thoughts on “Dinosaurs and Relics- Our Evolving Language

  1. I still struggle to rewrite a sentence when a preposition finds its way to the end. Always reminds me of the old Harvard upperclassman joke:
    Freshman asks upperclassman, “where’s the student union at?”
    Upper classman responds, “We here at Harvard do not end our sentences with a preposition.”
    “Okay. Where’s the student union at jerk face?”
    Thanks for your post. Good food for thought. – John

  2. I know we just had that discussion re. ‘s. I have also started using ‘they’ for the generic singular pronoun and I do end sentences with prepositions. But I still cringe at ‘youse’ and ‘bored of’. lol Sometimes we have to go with the flow or risk being declared obsolete and left behind.

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