grammar critics

In Going nuclear over nucular, Andy Lamey sticks up for George W. Bush’s pronunciation, but not his policies. I have been guilty of considering myself superior because I noticed someone’s grammatical mistake, but Lamey makes a good point. Language is evolutionary and those who refuse to change are not necessarily correct. I have resolved to pay less attention to others’ grammar and be more careful with my own.
(via vagrant grammar)

Update: Remind me to never link to again. They only leave articles online for 14 days and then the link dies and you have to pay to read it. Guaranteed link rot.

Here’s a snippet of the article.

Language bullying — or prescriptivism, as it’s more politely called — is conservative in the worst sense. It advances a stuffy and old-fashioned view of language, the rules of which it considers set by supposed experts, such as the authors of grammar books, rather than common usage. It is deeply anti-populist and snobby, not to mention just plain wrong and cranky. There are good reasons to criticize Bush. But holding his — or anyone else’s — grammar to dubious standards isn’t one of them.
I suspect many of Bush’s critics would want to avoid the distasteful varieties of prescriptivism that amount to little more than “white speech good, black speech bad.” But once we “go nuclear” on “nucular,” it’s hard to see how different we are from prescriptivists who sneer at the inventiveness of non-standard English. Lots of people other than Bush say “nucular.” It even follows its own rhetorical logic, grafting on to “nuclear” the common ending found in “particular” and “spectacular.” When a phrase meets those conditions, I’d say it’s no longer a matter of blunt right and wrong, but standard and non-standard. And that difference is best captured in the linguist’s quip that a language is a dialect with a navy.

And what’s with blogspot’s screwy archives? I googled for the article and found five results. One called his site a weblog, but without permanent links or archives, it is gone except for the google cache. A blogspot blog that had archives has a permanent link, but it’s currently broken. The closest thing to a permanent link is The Raven, a salon blog that at least has a link to the day, but not the actual post. Why does blogspot intentionally create invalid links? Why don’t they create the archive at the same time they create the original link, and simply update the archive when a new entry is posted?


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  1. I have always been a grammar stickler, but the other day a friend mentioned in her weblog that “you know who you are” was over-fond of correcting people’s speech. It was a not-so-subtle hint.

    So while I am still acutely aware of the problems with other people’s grammar, I have resolved to make less of an issue of it. My corrections have come way down since then. :-)

    Comment by Nick Kocharhook on April 10, 2003 @ 12:19 am
  2. I know for a fact that I use bad grammar. It’s not something I’m proud of but I don’t feel that poor grammar is a sign of ignorance. Those that intimidate or belittle through their perceived mastery of the English language need a hobby to take up all that spare time.
    It’s pronounced noooc-yaler… noooc-yaler.

    Comment by jason on April 10, 2003 @ 7:54 am
  3. As anyone knows, every region of English-speakers has its own dialect, accent, grammar, or slang. I think that’s what this article is trying to get across — that just because something’s pronounced differently in a grammar book doesn’t mean it’s wrong for someone from a different region.

    That aside, I tend to believe there is a general rule of grammar being directly proportional to education. Sure, there are exceptions, but someone who is Harvard educated sounds more “correct” to me than a hillbilly from the Ozarks. Since I am a big fan of education, I prefer good grammar, though I’m not a Nazi about it nor am I perfect myself.

    Comment by Cameron on April 10, 2003 @ 9:09 am
  4. Thus we see the difference between prescriptive and descriptive definitions of language. I think there’s a place for both of them, and I wish more people realized the difference between the two and the fact that they are both valid definitions.

    Without a prescriptive standard, as we see in most of our grammar books and dictionaries, we’d get wild differences in dialects across regional boundaries and communication between regions would become far more difficult over time. It’s important to have a common standard to mostly adhere to, especially when writing for a wide audience.

    However, if you stick solely to a prescriptive standard, your language begins to stagnate. People are creative and will always be coining new words and phrases and coming up with new ways of combining them that may not quite be in accordance with prescriptive grammar. These sorts of things keep a language alive and reflect how people really communicate on a day-to-day basis. Thus we have descriptive definitions of language, the ones that say that ‘nucular’ is just fine for the sole reason that people say it and understand one another.

    In the case of nuclear, however, I favor a policy of correcting the pronunciation–politely, of course, if possible. My reason for this is that we have enough hard-to-spell words already, and there’s no way to figure out ‘nuclear’ from ‘noo-kyu-lar’ unless you already know of the quirk. English is hard enough as it is! Will people please think of the children?! ;)

    Comment by Levi on April 10, 2003 @ 11:46 am
  5. I do think my site still counts as a weblog, despite the lack of permanent links. When I clicked on the Google link you provided, my page of Politics links turned up. On that page, you can search for “nuclear” and find the blog entry. Of course, that doesn’t help you find the original article, which, as you note, only lasted on the offsite location for a while, so even if you had been able to find my blog posting it wouldn’t have helped you much. Oh, well — sic transit.

    Comment by Dennis G. Jerz on April 11, 2003 @ 2:44 pm
  6. Dennis,

    I apologize. I didn’t realize you had category archives to provide permanent links. Did you write your own tool to manage your blog? I did that for a while until I found out about Movable Type and switched. It has all of the features that I wanted to add into mine, plus some.

    I’d be happy to answer any MT questions you might have.

    Comment by dan on April 11, 2003 @ 3:31 pm
  7. No need to apologize! Yes, I did create that tool myself. Does MT allow for multiple categories? That’s something that is really important to the way I blog, and so far it’s been easier to keep working with what I’ve got. My site parses into RSS pretty well, and I’ve got an undergrad working on turning the last 2 years of blogging into a database… is there a way to slurp all my archives into MT?

    Comment by Dennis G. Jerz on April 11, 2003 @ 3:50 pm
  8. Yes, yes and yes.

    Here is my category archive

    There are default templates for multiple versions of RSS and RSD. (Mark does a lot with RSS and uses MT.

    If your undergrad turns it into a database, it would be trivial to import it into MT, since it can use a database or Berkeley DB files.

    Here is the import format.

    Comment by dan on April 11, 2003 @ 3:59 pm

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