I’m reading Origins of the Specious and remembering the grammar wars (well, skirmishes, really) that I used to have with (son) b!X back in the old days. I was as adamant about the rules as he was about accepting common usage.
When I taught 8th grade English in the late ’60s, our grammar text book was my bible, and I carried it with me all through graduate school and beyond so make sure that my writing and editing were grammatically “correct.” Now I find out that b!X’s points were the ones I should have been paying attention to.
Like ending a sentence with a preposition (see previous sentence). Or beginning a sentence with a conjunction (note current sentence). And then there’s the split infinitive, as in “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
I rarely read non-fiction, but this book is as entertaining as any Stephanie Plum adventure, chock full of ear-opening anecdotes that explain where those old grammar rules came from and who were responsible.
Here’s a little sample of Patricia O’Connor’s clever chapter headings and her catchy writing style:
Isn’t it Pedantic?
Quick, what’s the plural of “octopus”? If you think “octopi” is classier than “octopuses,” go stand in the corner…..
We live in a postmodern world, but the Latinists are still among us, especially in academia. They insist on using plurals like “gymnasia,” “syllabi,” and symposia,” even though dictionaries now recognize a preference for Anglicized plurals (“gymnasiums,” “syllabuses,” “symposiums”). There’s pedantry off campus too, of course,. I’ve seen real-estate ads offering “condominia” for sale — to ignormani, no doubt.
As Garrison Keillor notes on the book’s back cover:
It’s right there on page 54: ‘It’s better to be understood than to be correct’ — pull that out the next time somene corrects your grandma. This tour de force of our beautifully corrupted language is both. And dull it ain’t….
And yes, as the title of this posts indicates, sometimes double negatives are what make the point. Never say never.