Let’s relax the rules of grammar and enjoy language

Let’s relax the rules of grammar and enjoy language

The Age, October 18, 2014

Amanda Dunn
Columnist, The Age.

Is a preposition a good word to end a sentence on? And can you begin sentences with a conjunction? What about if you just play a little with the spelling of a word, know wot I mean? If language is primarily about communication, and none of these things impedes clarity, then do they really matter? Continue reading

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The Guarfian’s style guide editor on..putting fears around texting into historical context

The Guardian’s style guide editor on … putting the fears around texting into historical context
Every minute, the world’s mobile phone users send more than 15 million text messages. There is no evidence that any of them have forgotten how to write
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David Marsh
The Guardian, Monday 15 September 2014 04.00 AEST
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Young person texting on mobile phone
A young person texting. ‘Just a handful of initialisms – such as IMHO, ‘in my humble opinion’, and LOL, ‘laughing out loud’ – have caught on.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson
There’s a song called My KZ, Ur BF by the band Everything Everything, and I love everything about it, not least because it illustrates how text messaging – once dismissed as “penmanship for illiterates” in, sad to say, the Guardian – can be elevated to an art form. If you have ever been to a party, and if you know that “KZ” and “BF” are abbreviations of keys and boyfriend, then you already have a story from the song title – in just a few characters and spaces – that you can take wherever your imagination chooses to go. But “KZ” is also short for “kill zone”, and Everything Everything embark on a tour of destruction and chaos, perhaps caused by a terrorist attack, a complex, disturbing tour de force that ends with the compelling line: “It’s like we’re sitting with our parachutes on, but the airport’s gone.”

A few years ago John Humphrys was warning in the Daily Mail, rather less eloquently:

Mary had a mobile, she texted day and night.

But when it came to her exams she’d forgotten how to write.

From this widely held point of view, texters were “vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago: they are destroying it”. The arrival of SMS (short message service) provoked an at times extreme reaction and dire warnings that young people would no longer be able to communicate normally but only in textspeak. And then only if they managed to avoid serious thumb injury.

Older people often go on like this, perhaps through jealousy. Ogden Nash wrote 60 years ago:

The pidgin talk the youthful use

Bypasses conversation.

I can’t believe the code they use

Is a means of communication.

If they are bothered about any of this, which I doubt, young people can take comfort from the fact that similar fears have been expressed throughout history. Like other children of the 1950s and 60s, I lived with the constant concerns of grownups that my favourite TV programmes and pop songs would corrupt my morals, rot my brain and leave me speaking in American slang. Doubtless 40,000 years ago the Palaeolithic edition of the Mail would have warned how cave paintings were corrupting the young and saying “call that art?”. And doubtless one day today’s young people will be moaning about how standards have fallen since the golden age of the early 21st century when they texted each other in perfect English all the time.

In his book Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, David Crystal demonstrates that all the offences against English of which texters are routinely accused have been commonplace and acceptable in the language for centuries.

English is rich in useful initialisms: AKA, DVD, NB, RIP and many more. Most people are familiar with the tantalising valentine card message SWALK (“sealed with a loving kiss”) – or, in the case of Alan Bennett in the 1960s comedy Beyond the Fringe, BURMA (“be upstairs ready my angel”), which turned out to be inappropriate because the object of his affections, a Miss Prosser, lived in a flat.

Omission of letters is common, too: in texting, “2nite”, perhaps; in more formal use, Mr and Mrs.

Rebuses (Latin for “by things”) like B4 and CUL8R have also been around for hundreds of years, and nonstandard spellings such as “wot” (1829) and “luv” (1898) date from the 19th century.

Finally, shortened words commonly found in text messages – uni, for instance – are no different from bus, exam, vet and numerous similar examples.

In fact only a small proportion of text language conforms to the stereotype. For example, just a handful of initialisms – such as IMHO, “in my humble opinion”, and LOL, “laughing out loud” (or, if you are David Cameron texting the editor of the Sun during a general election campaign, “lots of love”) – have caught on. One survey showed that as little as 6% of text messages comprised abbreviations. As with email, older users have adopted texting and traditional orthography, with a few shortcuts, is widespread.

Every minute, the world’s mobile phone users send more than 15 million text messages. There is no evidence that any of them have forgotten how to write.

• This is an edited extract from For Who the Bell Tolls: the essential and entertaining guide to grammar, by David Marsh, published in paperback this month by Guardian Faber. To order a copy for £5.99 (RRP £7.99) visit theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 684

Steven Pinker: 10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes)

Steven Pinker: 10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes)
You shudder at a split infinitive, know when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ and would never confuse ‘less’ with ‘fewer’ – but are these rules always right, elegant or sensible, asks linguist Steven Pinker
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Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
The Guardian, Friday 15 August 2014 22.00 AEST
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Chief Justice John Roberts had Obama ‘solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully’. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Among the many challenges of writing is dealing with rules of correct usage: whether to worry about split infinitives, fused participles, and the meanings of words such as “fortuitous”, “decimate” and “comprise”. Supposedly a writer has to choose between two radically different approaches to these rules. Prescriptivists prescribe how language ought to be used. They uphold standards of excellence and a respect for the best of our civilisation, and are a bulwark against relativism, vulgar populism and the dumbing down of literate culture. Descriptivists describe how language actually is used. They believe that the rules of correct usage are nothing more than the secret handshake of the ruling class, designed to keep the masses in their place. Language is an organic product of human creativity, say the Descriptivists, and people should be allowed to write however they please. Continue reading

Why ‘youse’ deserves a place in Australia’s national dictionary

Why ‘youse’ deserves its place in Australia’s national dictionary
For 30 years Susan Butler has been at the helm of the Macquarie Dictionary. Here she defends the inclusion of a much-derided word
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Sheep near Canberra
Hey, youse ewes! Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
I like to joke that, as the editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, I am like the woman with the mop and bucket who comes along to clean up after the party is over.

By this I mean that I do not create the mess. I am not devising the new words and bending the language to new uses. That is the consequence of the creative, not to say intoxicated, efforts of the language community. Continue reading

Bad comma: George Brandis sweats the small stuff

Among the pile of laws introduced on Wednesday in preparation for next week’s “repeal day” – the so-called “bonfire of the regulations” – was the statute law revision bill (No 1) 2014, under the name of the attorney general, Senator George Brandis.

It reveals the minister seems to have a previously hidden talent as a very particular subeditor, which some might conclude has produced less “bonfire” and more “sweating the small stuff”. Continue reading

Hopefully, literally, begs the question: the three most annoying misuses in English

26 May 2014, 6.12am AEST
AUTHOR
Baden Eunson
Adjunct Lecturer, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

Baden Eunson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Provides funding as a Founding Partner of The Conversation.
monash.edu.au
Winston Churchill had no problem ending his sentences with prepositions.
Atrocities in English are committed every day. Here are three of the worst. You may be surprised, but hopefully you won’t literally explode with anger. Continue reading

Words we can’t pronounce

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Words we can’t pronounce
Gayle Bryant
Published: April 17, 2014 – 10:58AM

Have you ever been asked to be more “pacific”? Or been told something was for “all intensive purposes”? Perhaps you’re regularly instructed to go to the “parts and assessories” department to pick up stock. Continue reading