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 "On Grammer (And Yes, I Know..." 
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Post "On Grammer (And Yes, I Know..."
Title: On Grammer (And Yes, I Know I Spelled Grammar Wrong)

Author: Joseph Devon


There has been a growing trend, in academic circles and in my
own life, to place grammar and its larger rules upon an
impeachable pedestal. A growing number of people who seem to
cling to the rules of grammar as if its only through the
memorization of these rules and strict adherence to them that
proper communication can be achieved. To these people I have but
one word: Hogwash. The application of grammatical rules is not
the holy grail of the writing world. If anything the exact
opposite is true and it is nothing but silly to pretend
otherwise. There have been far too many different great works in
far too many different phases of these rules to believe that the
standards we have now are entirely correct and always will be.
Joyce never used quotation marks, Melville loved run-on
sentences, and Kerouac barely even seems to be speaking English
at times. Should we assume that these authors and their works
are no longer worth reading because they do not adhere to the
strict grammatical rules in use today? Or, even worse, should we
retroactively edit their words, changing their concept of what
they wrote so that every quotation mark follows a comma and
semicolons are used correctly? Of course not. These works should
no more be touched than arms should be affixed to the Venice De
Milo. They were created when different rules applied, and this
should be respected. But this does not mean that those different
rules are antiquated versions of the written word when compared
to what we have now and that today’s standard is the correct
one. Today’s standard is simply the phase we are slipping
through at the moment, and it is bound to change as well. The
rules of grammar should be like the rules of law, stable but
never standing still. To create a system of rules for writing
and yoke the written word to these rules is going about things
backwards. Writing comes first and then the rules, not the other
way around. Those rules are in place to aid writing, not to
stifle it, and they should bow out gracefully once the world has
moved on without them. They work for us, as I’ve said, not the
other way around. This notion of the rules stepping aside for
the writers is not a request, I should point out; it is an out
and out threat. Experimentation with literature and the
unavoidable influence of the spoken word on writing insures that
the language will continue to shift and change, and if these
rules and the people who cling to them will not yield, then they
must be broken. The stricter the set of rules is, the smaller
your reachable audience becomes, either in time, or in space, or
in both. Let’s say that a unique thought about life occurs to
you in the abstract, and that you then put voice to this
thought. And let us say that you construct the most perfect
sentence in impeccable Queen’s English to express this thought.
You have now encapsulated it for transmission to other people
and you will be understood completely over three continents. The
only problem is you have alienated the rest of the world. Nobody
who speaks Chinese, or Greek, or Russian or Spanish will
understand you. Likewise, a century from now your words will
seem somewhat quaint. Two hundred years from now they’ll be
downright archaic. The use of language for self-expression is an
act that began back during our days of living in caves. It was,
and is, a much needed way of communicating thoughts and ideas to
those around us by creating an agreed upon methodology for this
communication. But, again, it is used to communicate with those
around us, those with the same agreed upon terms, and those
terms are radically different as the world, and the shared
experiences of those in the world, begin to vary with space and
time. It’s only natural. Language changes over space, and lingo
changes over time. The more you specify your rules for
communicating, the smaller your audience becomes and any attempt
to actually lock those rules down into an unchanging law will
only result in the suffocation of communication, not the
perfection of it. Or we can go back and look towards my previous
comparison of the rules of grammar to the rules of law. They are
not very different, after all. The law has a strict set of
definitions and rules for words so that minimal subjective
interpretation is allowed. People go to school for years to, in
part, learn this strict language, and that is my point entirely.
The stricter the rules, the more learning is required to apply
them, and more expertise is then required to interpret them, and
thus, the audience becomes smaller as less and less people have
the acquired skill needed to communicate…and that is not
self-expression. Self-expression needs to breath. And, in some
strange way, self-expression needs the ability to be
misunderstood. We can also take this notion in the exact
opposite direction. If more rules produce a smaller audience,
then fewer rules must produce a larger audience. This, as it
turns out, is exactly the case. As anyone who has ever found a
bathroom in a foreign land by acting out the motion of pulling
down their pants, as anyone who has been involved in a puppet
show to figure out what is on a dinner menu, as anyone who has
found a hotel room by tilting their head and pretending to sleep
will tell you: there is an international language, but it’s not
love or Esperanto, it’s mime. The more basic your method of
communicating, the easier you will be understood. I am not, of
course, advocating some sort of grammatical free-for-all where
we throw out all of the rules at once and ignore the fact that I
used “its” instead of “it’s” back in the first paragraph. These
rules provide a much needed service because, while it may be
true that the more grunting you do the more you’ll be
understood, it also happens to be true that the more basic your
method of communicating the less complex your thoughts can be.
There is no way I could mime the New York State Penal Code. All
I’m saying is, we shouldn’t take it too far the other way. There
is a reason the Tower of Babble fell over. That being said, I
suppose I should relent just a bit here about something I said
earlier. Maybe I shouldn’t have threatened the rules of grammar
exactly. As a writer I need and depend upon those rules to get
from abstract thoughts in my head to paragraphs of 12-point
font. So I take back that threat, but I leave a warning in its
place: Don’t stand too firm, you believers in grammar, don’t
hold too fast. This is all just a phase and the assaults on your
rules taking place every day are just language attempting to
move forward. The next time you want to complain about
high-schoolers text messaging each other while spelling the word
“cool” as “kewl”, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is this
pure stupidity and a sign of the crumbling of our civilization?
Or is it something else?” (It’s something else. On a standard
cell-phone keypad, the number 6 represents the letter “o”. To
type “cool” with proper spelling during text-messaging on a cell
phone requires you to hit the number 2 three times for the “c”,
then to hit the 6 three times for the first “o”, then (and
here’s the important part) to wait, and wait, and wait until
that letter reads in before hitting the 6 three times again for
the second “o”, then on to the 5 three times for the “l”. The
word “kewl” requires no such waiting; none of the sequential
letters are represented by the same number and all can be hit in
succession with no pauses. Trust me. Try it.) Language changes
for a reason. Sometimes, as in the coining of a phrase like
“hogwash,” a saying becomes so popular that it automatically
enters the mainstream lexicon. Sometimes, as with the mutation
of a word or phrase into different meanings, like “holy grail,”
it’s because verbal exchanges have brought the word into use
with a wholly different connotation. And sometimes, as with the
word kewl, it’s just easier. Rules of grammar are just fine, but
please don’t try to make them into laws. They will not hold. You
might as well go back in time and try to tell Rodin that he can
sculpt anything he wants, just so long as he always uses Lego
Building Set #6948B and his airplane always turns out the same
way. Or you might as well tell Van Gogh to go ahead and paint,
just so long as he paints by number. (Ironically, that’s pretty
much what happened to Van Gogh, an inspired painter who did not
follow the strict rules of Dutch oil painting as they were at
the time and thus only received scorn while he was alive. Of
course, if that’s what the man saw when he looked at a haystack,
I’m willing to admit that there might have been some other
issues at play. Plus there’s the whole ear thing.) And you might
as well tell me to stop interrupting my essay for parenthetical
asides containing chatty writing. That’s how I’m most
comfortable writing, and I’m not going to change it just to make
you feel comfortable. But I suppose I really do have to back off
a bit and repeat: that’s a warning, not a threat. Grammar
freaks, you had better learn how to bend because language is
most certainly going to change throughout time, and if you will
not yield for its passage it is going to leave you broken in its

About the author:
Joseph Devon is the author of "The Letter" and is a freelance
writer living in New York City. To read more about him, please

[Note: Due to size restriction, the subject line's title had to be truncated. Appologies to Joseph Devon. - Admin.]

This article was posted by permission.

Thu Jul 12, 2007 2:35 pm
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