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

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
Share 69

David Marsh
The Guardian, Monday 15 September 2014 04.00 AEST
Jump to comments (126)
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
Share 9536

32
inShare
246
Email
Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker
The Guardian, Friday 15 August 2014 22.00 AEST
Jump to comments (1083)
83598448
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
Email
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

Are youse using English properly – or mangling your native tongue

18 February 2014, 6.46am AEST
Are youse using English properly – or mangling your native tongue?

AUTHOR
Rob Pensalfini is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and Drama at the University of Queensland, and the Artistic Director of the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.

We long ago lost our second person plural – but that hasn’t stopped us adapting. Symic
Languages evolve and transform. If that weren’t the case, the only word in the previous sentence that would be considered English is and (which in any case used to mean if). The English we speak would not be remotely comprehensible to Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote The Canterbury Tales some 600 years ago. Continue reading

Please stop calling yourself a grammar nazi

Please stop calling yourself a grammar nazi

DateSeptember 19, 2013 – 10:24AM138 reading now

View more articles from Annie Stevens

Follow Annie on Twitter

Photo: Getty

If you were to do a random poll of Twitter bios, online dating profiles and those obnoxious pithy things journalists like to put at the end of their stories there is a fair chance that someone will profess their love of grammar. Perhaps they will say things like “I am a self-avowed grammar nazi/nerd/fearless fighter for the appropriate use of apostrophes.” They might say that they will block you if you use the wrong ‘your’ in a sentence, or marry you if you get it right. Both of which sound rather extreme, and not nearly as clever and enticing as the owner of said comment might think. Just like the clamouring tribes of self-confessed introverts on the internet, online is the natural habitat of the grammar nazi, where somehow knowing how to wield an apostrophe has become a noble act, nay, personal brand.

But the policing of grammar online and on social media has also become something of a blood-thirsty and demoralising sport. A typo causes crowing re-tweets among the grammarazi, or if the tweeter is feeling particularly superior they might screen grab an error just in case it was fixed – often the case in online – before they got the opportunity to gloat. A mis-spelt word is declared enough to discredit an entire argument and let’s not even go there with the comments left on articles.

Continue reading