My dear reader, today I appear before you bearing something of a confession. Actually, several confessions. No doubt my penitential perorations will generate cascades of consternation and chagrin across the expanse of the world-wide-inter-web-net, but so be it. I must “come clean” as they say in gangster films.
I occasionally, deliberately and with full awareness of my actions, end sentences with a preposition. I like the oxford comma, and I’m not afraid to use it. On weekends I’ve been known to employ passive voice. I have no compunctions about using the word “very” in a sentence when I feel it’s appropriate. I also spend rainy afternoons splitting infinitives.
At this point dear reader, you are no doubt sputtering at your monitor and gaping in abject horror at such a laundry list of linguistic lawlessness, but I for one, feel better for having done so.
You may also be wondering what could cause an otherwise upstanding citizen and scribbler to commit such horrible and heinous heresies against the language. The fact is, I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong.
The interwebz are replete with bright sparks who would act as “Guardians of the Language,” stalwart sentinels ready to drop the proverbial hammer on those with the temerity and impertinence to challenge what they see as the Rules of Language (insert echo-y James Earl Jones voice here). Indeed, I’ve been known to wag a finger a time or two over what I felt were affronts to the language, though I hasten to add that I will never countenance anyone being called a “Grammar Nazi.” Morphological malfeasance is one thing, but there is never a need to descend to that level of historical depravity for a suitable sobriquet.
The problem with this over-eagerness to “police” grammar and its usage is that it’s fundamentally flawed (and not a little arrogant). While I absolutely agree that there’s no excuse for using sloppy language, blind adherence to what we think are hard and fast grammar rules will surely lead us down a path of frustration and pretentiousness.
Now the more perceptive of you are probably wondering why I used the phrase, “…what we THINK are hard and fast grammar rules…” The fact is, my dear reader, several of the so-called “rules” of grammar are in fact
An infinitive is a two-word form of a verb. Splitting an infinitive refers to putting a word in between. Take, for example, the two-word verb “to go.” If we split this infinitive with the word boldly we get, “to boldly go,” which is not only grammatically correct, it’s kind of awesome as well.
Ending sentences with prepositions.
There’s nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition if it makes sense for the sentence. Take for example, “I’m going to throw up.” If you leave off the preposition “up,” you end up with an incomplete idea. The problem with trying to avoid these prepositional endings is that you can end up with some pretty awkward sentences. Winston Churchill once supposedly remarked, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” Well played Winston, well played.
Using words like “very.”
This one is a particular annoyance of mine, mainly because people take it as an iron-clad rule because of a line in the otherwise brilliant film “Dead Poets Society.” In it, the late Robin Williams’ character John Keating schools his pupils: “So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.” The trouble here is that he’s not quoting grammatical rules, he’s stating a preference for more elegant and expressive words in poetry.
Words like “very” are not lazy, they’re simply a stylistic choice, in the same
And therein lies the problem with the self-proclaimed “Grammar Guardians.” They’re often presiding over “rules” that are, in fact, only preferences, fetishes if you will.
So, as you can see dear reader, I am not only innocent, but also unapologetic about my use of language. Any language must be viewed as a living, breathing entity, constantly evolving and changing as we do. Meanings will change, new words will be created and old ones abandoned. (Have you seen stores selling “foodstuffs” lately?) Those of us with a passion for words and communication may lament such disruptive changes, but they are inevitable.
The important thing about language is not ensuring that it always follows draconian rules of usage, but that it be reflective of all elements of humanity – beautiful but also terrifying, harsh but also gentle, logical but also whimsical.
Language should be a study in contradictions, just like us.
About the Author
So who (or what) is “Mackenzie Clench?” Let’s see… aside from being the CEO, Scribbler and Chief Fuss Maker of Mackenzie Clench Creative, I’m also an author, empath and ten-cent philosopher with an obsession for books and words that borders on the pathological. As a
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