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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grammar with R.J. Robertson

Language Evolves and Grammar Lurches Along:
On Keeping a Toehold on Stampeding Style
Part 1

by R.J. Robertson

"Many years ago a wise and cynical man 
proved that the way a person talks is 
the most important thing about him."
Robert A. Heinlein (in his, The Cat Who
walks through walls.)

I got this job because – having been educated before the era of “don’t inhibit a child’s self-expression” – I  thrust myself unwittingly into the role of Curmudgeon of Grammar in the Evanston Writers’ Workshop.  

The C of G is not exactly a knightly title, you understand, but it does have one faintly noble perquisite: you get to criticize the work of writers better than yourself. I populated this role, without realizing what I was doing, by complaining about too many liberties being taken with English grammar in otherwise excellent work submitted for critique in the Evanston Writers’ group.            
Unlike with the younger generation – most of whom seem to have learned English in the polyglot culture of popular media, modified by the linguistic license rampant in immigrant cultures thrown together in our large cities – I learned grammar from a gentle, but no-nonsense British lady who taught it in one quarter of my first year at university. It was a sacred mission for her, and it spread to us, her students, as she instilled the rules of English, and convinced us why our language needed its rules.                
The latter point is well put in E B.White’s explanation of why he took up the cause pioneered by Will Strunk in The Elements of Style. White said, “If every word or device that achieved currency were immediately authenticated, simply on the ground of popularity, the language would be as chaotic as a ball game without foul lines.” If you examine Strunk and White on style and Lynne Truss’s, Eats Shoots & Leaves, on punctuation, I think it will not be hard to convince yourself of the aptness of White’s dictum.

To be continued...

Visit R.J. Robertson's website at: RichardJRobertson.Com 

1 comment:


Hi R. J. I enjoyed your post. I thought you might be interested in a book I wrote about the history of The Elements of Style on the occasion of its 50th anniversary last year. You and your readers might enjoy it. It’s called Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. It was published by Simon & Schuster and is available on Amazon. Here’s the link:

Take care,