Friday, February 11, 2005

What does not kill you makes you stronger

Syndicated columnist Paul Greenberg responds to a reader's complaints about his grammar.

To judge language only by its grammar is to kill the greater part of it and reduce it to some dead, taxidermied artifact. Grammar is to language only as the map is to the road. It's a kind of unnatural, post-facto construction compared to the living language itself.
And a bit more:
Language, like life, should surprise. As that legendary linguist Fats Waller put it, one never knows, do one? Which I think of as one of the more eloquent if ungrammatical observations in the American language. In so few words, it says so much about the unpredictable nature of the human condition. And it does so with such an innocent, unthreatening air. Which is a rare gift in rhetoric. Ol' Fats persuaded; he did not bully.

Which brings me to the big problem with pedantry; it induces a kind of counter-pedantry in its target, and reduces him to sounding as small as his critic. Consider this column Exhibit No. 1 for that thesis.
Sorry. The next post will be more uplifting, I promise.


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