This past week I was busy reading student essays and finishing off grades for the spring term. With Mother’s Day and several personal events getting in the way, none of the many in-progress posts for this blog were finished to a releasable standard for today.
So, instead I’ll share something that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago.
(Be forewarned: if you’re easily offended, this article is not for you.)
Personally, I think Bucholz has got everything right here when it comes to actual usage. Readers of this blog know that by nature I’m a descriptivist (when I prescribe here, it’s to help writers ‘fit’ their prose better to common standards, which is why I write a lot about ideas like adapting to your audience, and skunked words). It’s very hard to argue with his observations, because he’s accurately noting how real people use these words and phrases in real situations.
This article made the rounds among editor types and those interested in grammar. Sadly, I can’t say I was surprised at the quantity of negative reaction in some quarters. Lists like this (everybody has one) are good at getting people to reveal their personal biases (“oh, I mostly agree, but on this one point I’m right and he’s wrong…”). There are still an awful lot of people who seem to think that Strunk & White is the last word in English usage; worse still, there are some who seem to think Strunk was some kind of semi-literate radical, and that real English should be frozen in an awkward state somewhere between the King James Bible and the Crystal Palace Exhibition.
Time (and usage) march on. The only point on this particular list with which I have even a mild disagreement is the “literally” item, and Bucholz has a valid point. Words and their meanings change. Trying to put “literally” back in the bottle would be like trying to insist that graphic can only mean “in writing.” There would be a lot of graphic violence if anyone tried that.
I’m not a regular reader of Cracked.com, but I do check it out occasionally. (Seanbaby’s articles on Family Circus are some of the funniest things I’ve ever read…also not a good link to follow if you’re easily offended.) For a dead magazine – they haven’t existed in print since 2007 – they’ve managed to create quite a living web presence.
Enjoy your week. A regular post coming next time…