Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why people hate grammar

Actually, they probably don't. But people tend to think they hate grammar because they've been whacked upside the head since childhood with an array of unfounded whims, prescriptive nonsense and holier-n-thou mandates about speech features, all wearing an unconvincing fake mustache and posing as "grammar."

This morning's edition of the "Jump Start" comic strip manages to touch just about all the bases. Listen and attend as the Annoying Schoolmarm character takes the extended family to task:

"I've called this meeting because you all use poor grammar." ("Brace yourself," Joe tells Marcy.)

"Clarence starts too many of his sentences with 'basically.'"

"Marcy uses the phrase 'little tiny' which is redundant." ("True," says Joe, in whom the Force obviously does not run strong, since he doesn't belt his mom in the chops for the restrictive 'which.')

"Clayton ordered salmon and he pronounced the silent 'L'!" ("Gulp!")

"Maureen says 'ditn't' instead of 'didn't.'"

"And Charlene, like George W., says 'nu-cu-ler' instead of 'nuclear.'"

Who wouldn't hate grammar if it meant all that stuff? How convenient for us that it doesn't. Grammar doesn't mind a little extra redundancy for added emphasis. Fortunately, it doesn't have a problem with sentence adverbs. And devoicing and cluster reduction aren't even in the same domain as grammar.*

Headsup-the-Blog, of course, is the online home of the Grammar Is Nothing But Legos movement, and all you have to do to join is drink our powdered soft drink mix. Grammar's about what the red Lego and the white Lego do and the ways in which they can and can't be put together. Style, tone and register are all cool, but none of them are "grammar." Study and enjoy them all. Just don't get them mixed up. Please. It gives grammar a bad name and a lot of enemies it doesn't need or deserve.

* A good reason for not trying to transcribe dialect, the domain they do belong to, is that it's devilish hard to get right.** People who reduce the consonant cluster in "nuclear" almost never pronounce the vowels in the first two syllables identically; nu-kyu-ler or nu-kee-ler would be better guesses. And needless to say, George W. ain't even the first nukeler-speaking president of HEADSUP-L's journalism career.
** Should this be read as a suggestion that the Missourian sports department stop trying to write dialect? It certainly should.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, it is trademark, not grammar, that dictates:

The LEGO brand name should always be written in capital letters.

LEGO must never be used as a generic term or in the plural or as a possessive pronoun, e.g. "LEGO's".

When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own. It should always be accompanied by a noun. For example, LEGO set, LEGO products, LEGO Group, LEGO play materials, LEGO bricks, LEGO universe, etc.

The first time the LEGO trademark appears in a headline and in the following text it should be accompanied by the registration symbol (R).

(Sorry, I couldn't resist. All the details are available in the PDF found here.)

2:06 PM, March 26, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Tnx for stopping by, Rich.

Hoping not to seem impolite to a new visitor, I would suggest that

"LEGO must never be used as a generic term or in the plural. ...
When the LEGO brand name is used as part of a noun, it must never appear on its own. It should always be accompanied by a noun."

is indeed a series of arguments from grammar -- just a series of particularly unconvincing ones. Trademark owners contend that trademarks are something called "proper adjectives" (er...) and not nouns, but they're generally at the head of the line in turning trademarks into count nouns. If you can have a Coke and a smile, or make it a Bud Light, you can have two Cokes or make it five Bud Lights -- or make the said nouns do anything else nouns do. For so they are.

We're happy to extend the courtesy of capitalization to trademarks, but beyond that -- nah.

12:13 AM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for presidential mispronounciation, I nominate LBJ's "new-killer" bombs.

12:25 PM, March 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Second the nomination!

8:14 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Good Lord, it's a Star-Snooze reunion. How you been keeping yourself?

11:49 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger Doug said...

And the beauty of that little comic, which I downloaded and used as a class exercise, is that after going through all that, it was wrong in the last panel.

The term is scot-free, referring to the old British tax, a scot, not "scott"-free as the cartoonist spelled it.

7:20 PM, April 10, 2006  

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