Not black and white: the realities of the English language

Posted on Wed 16 May 2012 @ 6.30am UTC

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GRAMMAR WONKS luuurve to yank your chain or set your teeth on edge with their pronouncements (formal or authoritative statements) and prognostications (predictions) about usage, abusage and decline of the English language.

To hear some of these wonks speak (or “speaking down the throats” of others, as British-Hungarian humorist George Mikes once wrote), it’s hard not to notice their remarks seem like the laws of gravity that hold the damn planets together.

(Regardless of the official scientific position that Pluto is now only a space pebble.)

For the curious:—

  • yank someone’s chain means a person is bothering you/me and should leave us alone
  • a wonk is a person who studies a subject/issue to an excessively assiduous [unremitting] and thorough manner, e.g. a policy wonk

The ways and byways of the English language aren’t some private mystery or protected kingdom of a select few. The evidence for how and why English operates the way it does is all around us, you blind SOB.

Before we take a reality check about English, we first have to recognise the craptastic complaints characteristically spewed out by the grammarphiles.

Complaining for kicks

Let the record show that many of the complaints made by the grammarnik camp defy the laws of sanity, never mind the one about gravity.

(Indeed, the 10 routines below and the additional ones in later parts of this article came from just one online thread. All of the routines are routinely repeated in any online or offline argument, almost in the order presented here. It suggests this crap is probably some form of behavioural conditioning in the grammarnik camp.)

Grammarfreaks, grammar nazis, grammar wonks, grammarfags and linguists (as in linguistics rather than those who are actually multilingual) are incredibly insolent complainers.

It is incredibly hard to hit back at them too because many of these self-serving mendacious dirtbags are actually highly literate and articulate.

Their ink and venom are endless.

Their waking hours are preoccupied with thinking up retorts and comebacks in advance for defending their points of view.

They are fully weaponised and ‘coming in hot’ to any grammar- or language-related argument.

As a public service, we provide you with a rundown of their typical complaints about the deteriorating standard of English:—

1. The English language is broken because people don’t observe good or correct grammar because of lethargic attitudes in life or lack of concern, intelligence, upbringing, education, linguistic usage, etc.

  • Isn’t that a wee bit judgmental? How do you make the highly defamatory connection between heedlessness in grammar (if that) and those things?
  • Isn’t it also possible that English is broken because teachers have a lethargic attitude in teaching it properly and realistically, a lack of concern about what students need to learn, etc, rather than the other way round?

2. Bad grammar, slang and illogical constructions signal a decline in usage standards — a complaint often accompanied by fingerpointing remarks that email, text messaging, Twitter and Facebook updates jointly and severally corrupt the art of writing.

  • That’s an insinuation that you know the art of writing or have high usage standards and the rest of us don’t or haven’t got.
  • One swallow (a bird) does not a summer make — so how do you know that the rest of us are ignorant of the art of writing or bereft of standards?
  • We know for sure you’re an expert in the art of wankery.
  • In computing, assembly language is machine language. It’s very fast, very direct, very tight — and full of bad machine grammar, machine slang and illogical constructions. Human language is 1,000,000 times more sophisticated than assembly language. Who are you to question what corrupts the art of writing?

3. That ‘our’ language is going to the dogs (or even gone already) because of failure to observe ‘basic elementary-school grammar’ — additionally qualified with a rider such as “I am crazy about grammar” or seeing documents “at work” that are full of grammatical mistakes everywhere.

  • That’s another insinuation that we are not observing basic grammar on purpose, rather than because of other possibilities such as still at the stage of learning or just plain defective teaching in the past, no?
  • You might be infatuated with grammar — doesn’t mean the rest of us are.
  • Ever considered the possibility that your line of work is shite so you statistically significantly have a higher chance of reading shite documents?
  • Ever stop to think that your co-workers are deliberately screwing up their grammar just to see a psycho like you bounce around like with a nuclear warhead lodged up your arse?

4. No. 3 above is usually tagged with a cheap shot like “If you can’t use proper grammar then you should focus more on your education than a part-time job on the side.”

  • You think it’s charitable to make that kind of remark, do you? And you believe you are one-up on the rest of us knowing my work and/or educational situation, do you?
  • That cheap shot, ultimately, speaks volumes about the your own upbringing and ‘education’ more than anything else.

5. Grammar makes all the difference because it shows “a degree of consideration” for those who have to read the writing.

  • The personage who starts pontificating using this excuse comes along almost as regular as clockwork about quarter of the way into the argument.
  • The bizarre thing is that it’s always the same locution (‘a degree of’).
  • Truth is, you’re either pregnant or you’re not: you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Likewise, you’re either considerate or you’re not.
  • Consideration for others shows a degree of good upbringing and charity of mind for those who come into contact with us.

6. The ability to read something just fine despite grammatical errors is no excuse for laziness and “rudeness.”

  • The same personage in No. 5 above invariably uses this as a rider.
  • That rider often gets used almost word for word.
  • They meant to say ‘relying on our ability to read something just fine…’
  • As it stands, it makes it sound as though our ability to discount grammatical defects is laziness or rudeness, or both.
  • Now you see why grammarheads have problems concentrating on what they write.
  • It may be true enough that it’s laziness, but please do show to an ignoramus like me just how my grammatical errors could be rudeness.
  • Our rudeness in reading something just fine regardless of defects is only surpassed by the personage’s own rudeness.
  • For sure you are clueless in the art of intuition.

7. Good grammar minimises the risk of confusion and misunderstanding.

  • This seems reasonable enough to most of us and is often used by seemingly even-handed complainers.
  • But then these even-keeled complainers slap themselves in the face by indiscriminately applying grammatical correctness in (as House often says) “genre-inappropriate” situations such as Twitter, Facebook, informal email and SMS text messages.

8. The truly offensive complainants take the line that they use proper grammar because they “take pride in being educated” and want to sound like it.

  • So you’re insinuating that the rest of us aren’t educated or don’t take pride in our education — so somehow you’re better than (or even too good for) the rest of us, no?
  • I can’t answer for other people, but I happen to be proud of (not “take pride in”) the formal and informal education shared with me by my schoolteachers, fellow students, friends and family.
  • The rest of us hoi-polloi don’t take pride in being educated, which I notice makes for a highly supercilious demeanour.

9. Disregarding proper or basic linguistics is a sign of a lethargic attitude in life.

  • Is that a fact? So now your knowledge of linguistics empowers you to pass judgment on the psychological states of others, correct?
  • And you know this “lethargic” attitude in life from personal experience or the observation of others, too?
  • It’s always linguistics, even if it’s the wrong association, isn’t it?

10. Some go straight to the defamatory offensive and accuse people of speaking or writing badly “on purpose” — plus the almost-obligatory but dubious, epilogic disclaimer, would anyone care about what you have to say?

  • Let’s see if the rest of us got this right. So you’d disregard all and sundry of what others say wholly and exclusively because of their defective grammar, do you?
  • So every mistake (great or small, in grammar or anything else) is in your mind done on purpose, as if done to anger you, right?
  • You feel pretty entitled, don’t you?
  • If that’s your attitude to others, do we even care about what you have to say?


How true that is with some people.



More passive-aggressive complaints from grammarheads

© Learn English or Starve, 2012.

Images: “Rudeness is the weak person’s…” by Eric Hoffer via My Internet Finds | Chain-Yank Award via Url’s Internet CafeThe Art of Assembly Language by Randall Hyde via O’Reilly BooksCharity Begins At Home by Vedran Vukoja via depositphotos | Attention Manipulation via Lakewood Loon | Banned via Desktop Dynamo | Can’t Airbrush Personality via My Internet Finds.

Posted in: Colour Section