Nov 092008

I’ve always loved Stephen Fry. Nothing against Hugh Laurie, of course, but given the choice between the two, I’m afraid I’ve always favored Fry. Perhaps because he’s always been a bit drier, a bit smoother, a bit more, well, quintessentially British in my eyes than his former partner-in-comedy. And this opinion, I promise you, dates back to long before I even knew Laurie was capable of doing such a good imitation of an American accent.

But this is new. Stephen Fry has just elevated himself not only onto my blogroll but onto my own personal list of People Who Get It:

Words are free and all words, light and frothy, firm and sculpted as they may be, bear the history of their passage from lip to lip over thousands of years. How they feel to us now tells us whole stories of our ancestors.

And that’s just two sentences. Go, please, and read the rest. Yes, it is a rather long piece, but, Gods, is it beautiful. And true. And I’m still arguing with myself as to which of those adjectives is the more important.

Grammar Nazism

 Posted by at 5:05 am  Language  No Responses »
Jun 132007

I got a Friend request over on my MySpace page recently from a group whose whole purpose is to be pedantic about grammar. They even have a cute t-shirt that says “I judge you when you use bad grammar.”

I turned them down.

It’s not that I don’t think grammar is important. I proof-read form letters and web pages as part of my job. When I do that, yes, I am in fact the biggest “grammar nazi” on campus. That’s because the language that we put out in those publications needs to be in an educated, formal register. That’s the face the university needs to present to the public.

And, yes, there are some things that pop up in informal speech that make my hair stand on end. Like saying “I could care less” when what you really mean is exactly the opposite. And there are alternate pronunciations of certain words (such as “nuke-yu-ler”) that make me cringe. The first is an idiom, the second a feature of cetain dialects. Knowing that doesn’t make either any less of a peeve for me.

But none of that means that I disapprove of TXT abbreviations, or slang, or sentence fragments, or the use of “they” as a singular pronoun outside of formal context. Text messages are different from dissertations. Talking to your friends is not the same as talking to a potential employer. Most of us switch gears and use the register and the dialect that’s appropriate to the situation at hand.

And, really, it’s just as rude to insist that people use the academic dialect of English all the time as it is to force them to wear a tuxedo to the county fair. Unless necessity dictates it, people should be allowed to use the language they feel most comfortable with. More than that: they should be allowed to play with it. Language is not just a communication tool, after all. It’s how we express ourselves.