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  • On National Grammar Day, stop acting like the earth is flat

    At Whole Foods, good grammar, like good food, doesn't come cheap.

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Comments

l.owen@free.fr Mar 6, 2016 6:18 am

stop acting LIKE the world is flat?!!  And this is about grammar -- I couldn't read any further.

'As if', not 'like'  For errors such as this, I spend my time shouting at the radio!

Reply to l.owen@free.fr at 6:18 am
debaron@illinois.edu larry.israel@hotmail.comMar 6, 2016 10:10 am

Not like the Earth was flat, but as if the Earth were flat. For the lack of an emoji I say :)

No, you're wrong. I write, "Stop acting like the world is flat." If for some reason you really wanted to use the subjunctive, you'd have to use the present subjunctive, "Stop acting like the world be flat." My suggestion? Save that kind of hypercorrect nonsense for talk like a pirate day.

Reply to debaron@illinois.edu at 10:10 am
debaron@illinois.edu l.owen@free.frMar 6, 2016 10:16 am

stop acting LIKE the world is flat?!!  And this is about grammar -- I couldn't read any further.

'As if', not 'like'  For errors such as this, I spend my time shouting at the radio!

As for your lament about "act as if the world is flat" -- I suggest you save that for Talk as if a Pirate Day. My advice? RTFM.

Reply to debaron@illinois.edu at 10:16 am
greenshank@hotmail.com Mar 7, 2016 4:55 am

"a not unkind remark is hardly a compliment, it's just neutral with mildly negative connotations"

I would say it had mildly positive connotations. I think that kind of potential misinterpretation or ambiguity is a reason to avoid the expression, and a fine example of why we have those grammatical rules that we're supposed to adhere to.

Oops, a participle where it ought not to be, and did I break the which/that rule? (I was never taught that one so I have no idea which is supposed to be used when.)

You see? Some rules don't have much justification, but some do. Let's not throw the oblately spheroidal baby out with the flat bath-water.

Reply to greenshank@hotmail.com at 4:55 am
baber@midwestfirst.com Mar 8, 2016 6:35 am

The author claims he is all about tolerance. Ironically, I didn't notice a single grammatical error in the article, except the probably slyly intentional use of an apostrophe to pluralize "apostrophe".  I'm fairly sure the author wasn't given the opportunity to publish this article because he had a long history of using double negatives and confusing verb tenses. He didn't get his position in academia because his peers and superiors thought he "done good". No, he speaks the King's English, that of an American king reigning in 1980, if not King Henry VIII.

Reply to baber@midwestfirst.com at 6:35 am
john832@europe.com greenshank@hotmail.comMar 14, 2016 11:34 am

"a not unkind remark is hardly a compliment, it's just neutral with mildly negative connotations"

I would say it had mildly positive connotations. I think that kind of potential misinterpretation or ambiguity is a reason to avoid the expression, and a fine example of why we have those grammatical rules that we're supposed to adhere to.

Oops, a participle where it ought not to be, and did I break the which/that rule? (I was never taught that one so I have no idea which is supposed to be used when.)

You see? Some rules don't have much justification, but some do. Let's not throw the oblately spheroidal baby out with the flat bath-water.

Use _that_ to introduce restrictive clauses. Use _which_ to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. For example, you might say, "I'm wearing the blue jacket that I bought yesterday" if you want to indicate that you have other blue jackets and want to specify which blue jacket you are wearing. However, you might say, "Tonight I will wear my blue jacket, which I bought last week" if you have only one blue jacket. The clause "which I bought last week" is nonessential information because you have just the one blue jacket. Caveat! MLA style now allows _which_ with both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses; but if you use _that_, it must be with a restrictive clause.

Reply to john832@europe.com at 11:34 am
debaron@illinois.edu john832@europe.comMar 14, 2016 11:48 am

Use _that_ to introduce restrictive clauses. Use _which_ to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. For example, you might say, "I'm wearing the blue jacket that I bought yesterday" if you want to indicate that you have other blue jackets and want to specify which blue jacket you are wearing. However, you might say, "Tonight I will wear my blue jacket, which I bought last week" if you have only one blue jacket. The clause "which I bought last week" is nonessential information because you have just the one blue jacket. Caveat! MLA style now allows _which_ with both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses; but if you use _that_, it must be with a restrictive clause.

The that/which rule goes back to Henry Fowler, who wanted to replace the common and entirely unobjectionable English variation of that and which in restrictive relative clauses with a rule to create what he thought would be order out of what he perceived as a mess. What he did was produce, not order, but more mess. After Fowler, some editors insisted on a that/which distinction, others didn't, and many writers today have no idea what the fuss is all about. A perfect example of faith-based rule making: do it because I said so. 

Reply to debaron@illinois.edu at 11:48 am
sense07@waitrose.com Mar 27, 2016 11:51 am

Systems are not 'rational' and English has many systems - of syntax, of conjugation, of tense and number, of sound (phonology/phonemics) and orthography (spelling) -but thankfully fewer stumbling blocks such as ‘gender’ conjugational necessity - except for pronominals - he, she, it (his/ her/its  - him/her/it)  - than most other Indo-European languages. 

So an opening criterion based on the word 'rational' will not be productive.  Rationality is not a defining term for any of our language systems. Systems are internally consistent, but that doesn’t have the same meaning as ‘rational’.  If we delve deeply (historical research) into language systems, even the exceptions arose from fully explainable circumstances - most commonly to do with usage or adaptation over time for technical or functional needs (printing, publishing, clarifying and distinguishing between meanings, and so on). 

Our native acceptance and knowledge of the syntax of our own language includes the facility we have in our minds, our brains of ‘making sense’ as we speak and listen, write and read.  We have a standardising 'hub' of language for public use around which hundreds of variants and dialects may play and run freely. 

We do not have to ‘learn’ our native grammar; we acquire it, like our teeth (both types - milk teeth and adult teeth) in one of the early maturational phases of the human body and mind, through activity of the (still little understood) ‘triggering’ devices of the brain and central nervous and other central systems. When we come to learn second or third languages, perhaps as young adults, we begin to understand through our intelligence the functioning of our own grammar - and incidentally to be happy, and to understand Nature’s wisdom in not having us ‘learn’ that as children. 

 English contains fundamental elements of Greek, Latin, Arabic, Celtic languages, and Scandinavian.  it contains many ‘borrowings’ (not to be given back) from other languages. If you Google the percentage of Greek and Latin 'roots' in specialist scientific, medical, technical, academic disciplines, and ‘everyday English’, you will see why we had such trouble streamlining everything into such a fruitful and fertile international language, with also an acceptable yet fully fluid 'system' of grammarTherefore it can also seem that challenging existing systems on the basis of  'irrationality' is a bit of a ploy - to allow those who don’t understand grammar an excuse for error or for not teaching it correctly, or many other ‘reasons’ or excuses. 

So let’s leave 'rational' out of the criteria, when speaking of grammar.  Get yourself a grammar study course for one year then see how satisfying it is to understand the consistencies and exceptions.   Everything flows.  Studying grammar is satisfying - as a study of the Sound system (Phonemics) of English.  How can you understand 'Applied Linguistics' without studying grammar, phonemics, comparative phonology, etc.?  You will love language more if you learn more about it.  Go study!  Discover in the process what is meant by ‘rational’ and why grammar ‘is not rational’.

Ann Sonya

Reply to sense07@waitrose.com at 11:51 am