Monday, February 17, 2003

Stupid Grammar Tricks

Hey kids! It's writer's rant time! Today's petty grievance? Anal grammatical rules in bonehead style books that petty editors shove down your throat or other orifices. Hard to swallow, because there are a host of these freaking rules. Wait. Did I say that right? Maybe there is a host of these freaking rules. Is "host" a collective noun? No, it's definitely "are." I think. Damnit, who cares? Here is a few pet peeves ...

Sentence fragments are the mark of a lazy writer.
No. They're not. A sentence fragment is a tool. A handy tool, in the hands of a good writer who knows when to use it. Hemingway, Harlan Ellison, I could go on. There's no such thing as a bad tool -- but what's the right tool for the job? (Hey, if you scratch your eyeball with a hammer, you might poke it out. Even a lousy carpenter knows that.) My point? Sentence fragments work. Sometimes.

Shun the split infinitive.
What idiocy. By way of illustration, let's take our Grammar Nazi pen to the original Star Trek intro. "To boldly go where no man has gone before" becomes "To go boldly where no man has gone before." Just doesn't sound right. That split infinitive rule is LATIN grammar, damn it. English is not an inflectional language. You can't have a split infinitive in English. On any planet.

Never start a sentence with a conjunction.
And I know. And I feel. And I swear. Starting a sentence with a conjunction can give it more punch. It's also a form of linguistic connective tissue. The sinews binding a new sentence to the last.

"More than" is a statement of quantity. "Over" only refers to position.
A stupid rule that kills a useful synonym. "More than." What a tooth-breaking, awkward, gob-stopper of a phrase. Say "over," baby. Say it over and over! You know you want to. "Over a hundred people started dancing!" Feels good, doesn't it?

Hear, O Grammar Nazis. I am the Singular Possessive Pronoun. I am One.
Shakespeare lost no sleep over this commandment. No, gentle readers. The Bard was singularly fond of "their." As in: "There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well-acquainted friend." And as an added bonus, the epicene "their" swings both ways, avoiding tedious repetitions of "his or her." Based on those cross-dressing comedies, I figure Shakespeare was cool with that.

Never end a sentence with a proposition.
Not to beat a dead horse, but a pox on this dicta. (Again, a bogus rule borrowed from Latin that doesn't apply to English.) As Churchill said, "This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put."

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