On Ending the Great Word War

A wise man once wrote “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” So it follows that just as there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted, that there is also a time to push boundaries as well as guard them. This is certainly true when it comes to the rules of grammar.

Some would have us believe that the fences which circumscribe the Queen’s English are the lexical equivalent of natural law; fixed, immalleable, and eternally unyielding. The overly scrupulous fusspots— The Guardians of the Ancient Precepts—often strain at grammatical gnats while swallowing communicative camels. They tithe from every jar in the syntactical spice rack but they sometimes omit the weightier matters of the law. For them, saying everything correctly is more important that saying something clearly. But it ain’t necessarily so. The rules of grammar are (for the most part) designed to keep things clear. When they begin to obscure that clarity or otherwise become counterproductive, then it’s time to remember that man was not made for the Sabbath.

Just so, the sword cuts both ways. If. your. sentence. looks. like. this. it. should. probably. be. put. out. of. its. misery. That sort of nonsense doesn’t really make anything clearer, it just makes it look as though your keyboard has asthma. These rules, though not the inflexible laws of the Medes and Persians, must still maintain enough rigidity to withstand the all too common pressures of slapdash sentences and old-fashioned bone idleness.

On points of grammar I tend to be persnickety over the basics and a libertine around the edges. For instance, I think that table manners are essential for both dignity and civility, but if the pompous court of Louis XIV demands 22 salad forks, my sympathies lie with the antinomians.

Contrary to the judgment of some less charitable comrades,  I am not actually a Grammar Nazi, nor do I favor such a totalitarian regime. I  advocate something more along the lines of a Grammatical Constabulary. 


P.S. The Oxford Comma, however, is non-negotiable. It may just mean the difference between heaven and hell.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit = Heresy

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit = Orthodoxy


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