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INside Scoop January, 2008


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Policing Language
Royally ranting at grammarian goblins
By  Rowdy Rhodes

The internet provides much grammarian wheat, but it also hauls out the chaff.
Our esteemed editor mentioned in our preview issue there are times that I will go on a rant. This is one of those times.

Let me start off with a horribly mutilated quote, re-written (not by me) to be gender correct:

"How many roads must an individual walk down before you call them an adult?"

If you are an aficionado of folk music you'll recognize the song the quote is based upon:

"How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man." is from Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind".

Lord knows I'm all for equality, however historical use of words like fireman, policeman, mankind, man-made are being re-written as "language police" hunt down "gender abuse" attempting to cleanse written English that has already been published!

It's a scary, nauseating thought that the words of the classics and textbook history are being altered to accommodate gender.

Journalists, writers, editors, and educators alike are pressured to conform to gender rules to express thoughts and ideas. Publishers are actually re-publishing certain books with gender "corrected".

"How many roads must an individual walk down .... ?". Give me a break!

My beef doesn't stop there though. Oh, no. Some of you have launched personal attacks at me.

Ultra-conservative grammarians are skulking around like hen house weasels striving to suffocate word growth, snatch generally accepted words from being added to dictionaries, and establish themselves as Puritans of English. Balderdash!

I've even heard from one grammarian complaining that supermarkets should change check out signs from "8 Items or Less" to "8 Items or Fewer". Pahleese!

At times grammarians make valid, important points and remind us about structure, yet I also believe many develop delusions of grandeur. Lately they have delivered messages to me in rude, sanctimonious emails. I have been criticized and lambasted for "uneducated" and "improper" use of prepositions and a penchant for run-on sentences.

Here's some English "minutia" for you to mull over:

Dangling Prepositions:

It was John Dryden who first promulgated the doctrine that a preposition may not be used at the end of a sentence, probably on the basis of a specious analogy to Latin.

Grammarians in the 18th century refined the doctrine, and the rule has since become one of the most venerated maxims of schoolroom grammar. But sentences ending with prepositions can be found in the works of most of the great writers since the Renaissance.

English syntax does allow for final placement of the preposition, as in "We have much to be thankful for" or "I asked her which course she had signed up for".

Efforts to rewrite such sentences to place the preposition elsewhere can have stilted and even comical results, as Winston Churchill demonstrated when he objected to the doctrine by saying “This is the sort of English up with which I cannot put.”

Sometimes sentences that end with adverbs, such as "I don't know where she will end up" or "It's the most curious book I've ever run across", are mistakenly thought to end in prepositions.

So stop harassing me about sentences ending with "for", "up", "across", etc., and know that, at times, it is okay to write in this fashion.

Run-on sentences:

Another of my peeves is being accused of writing run-on sentences and I will admit that I have been known to be guilty of expressing a full train of thought in a sentence of enormous proportions, disregarding the period in order to convey my message, however I do not stand alone in this arena and for that I have much to be thankful for.

Henry James wrote the following single sentence. I love every word and nuance:

When in a quarter of an hour he came down, what his hostess saw, what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the lean, the slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and something more perhaps than the middle age--a man of five-and-fifty, whose most immediate signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face, a thick dark moustache, of characteristically American cut, growing strong and falling low, a head of hair still abundant but irregularly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold free prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been called, of which, had a certain effect of mitigation.

I am comfortable with run-on sentence writing, and reading, and when I mentioned the above to one of my detractors their response was "you missed your century" and "your density doesn't allow the form of language to penetrate".

If you want to grammatically chew on something then I submit to you an example of truly wretched writing that was the 2005 Winner of the Wretched Writing Contest held at the Amherst College Writing Center http://www.amherst.edu/~writing/wretched.html

And who says you're not supposed to start a sentence with And or But?

Got something to say about this rant? Fire away:
publisher@fwointl.com subject Rowdy Words

Dangling Prepositions Source: Bartley.com and the American Heritage Dictionary http://www.bartleby.com/61/7/P0530700.html

Henry James Source: Online-literature.com and The Ambassadors by Henry James http://www.online-literature.com/henry_james/ambassadors/1/ 

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Rowdy Rhodes
General Manager
Inkwell Newswatch
rowdyrhodes@fwointl.com

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