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  • The Laws of English usage

    In my last post I introduced you to three of Barons laws of English usage.  But there are more than three.  I call these the ten laws of English usage (you will note, of course, that there are actually twelve of them, which is why I teach English, not math).

    To summarize:  

    Whenever a language critic complains about something you can be sure of these two laws --

    1) The law of shutting the barn door: It's already too late to do anything about it and

    2) The law of inevitable self-incrimination: The language critic already uses the form he or she is complaining about.

    Here are the rest of Baron’s laws, at least the ones I have discovered up to this point:

    3) The principle of uncertainty:  When it comes to language, everyone knows the difference between right and wrong, or good and bad, or standard and nonstandard, English, but no two people agree on what that difference is.

    4) The uncertainty principle times two:  Experts disagree over correctness in English even more than everybody else.  And they do it louder, too.

    5) The law of ‘Everyone's a critic’:  For every usage critic watching your grammar, there's another usage critic out there watching his (or her) grammar, and so on ad infinitum, etcetera, and didah di dah di dah.

    6) The law of ‘Don't tread on me’: Americans want their language to be corrected by the "experts," but they refuse to listen to anything an expert tells them, because they figure, "No one's got the right to tell me what to do."

    7) The law of, ‘If I'm so smart, why ain't I rich?: Experts refuse to listen to other experts, because they figure, "No one's got the right to tell me what to do."

    8) The law of increasing entropy (also called the law of language history repeats itself):  Even if we do try to take to heart a language expert's recommendation about what is correct, we are more than likely to get it wrong and produce yet another error for the experts to get exercised over.

    9) The law of enlightened self-interest:  Language experts say what they do in such a way as to maximize misinterpretations and get us to make more mistakes so they can stay in business.

    10) The relativity principle: Everyone's got something to say about the English language, which makes it as hard for the person in the street to distinguish between language fact and language fiction as it is for them to distinguish between science fact and fiction, between history and myth, or between Coke and Pepsi.

    11) The principle of recurring punctuation:  No matter how often I try to duck the issue and get on to topics that are really interesting, most people still want to know where to put their commas.  But that's okay, because, according to

    12) The law of the proper pronoun: For language, as for anything else, it doesn't matter what you know but who you know. Or is it whom?

    Truth in advertising disclaimer: These laws are adapted from Dennis Baron's Guide to Home Language Repair (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of Englislh, 1994).

jr@symynet.com Dec 20, 2008 8:38 am


Regarding #5) The law of Everyone's a critic and #6) The law of Don't tread on me & perhaps other of your laws:
There's a petition online to change the spelling of stationery to stationary (with explanation at stationery --> stationary).  The Internet serves to promote commoners opinions.

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