Curb Your Smugness

Well-informed comment about language in the popular press is rare, but there are exceptions. In the US, ‘veteran drudge John E McIntyre writes about language, usage, and journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects’ in the ‘Baltimore Sun’. He does so with good humour and the benefit of long experience in his trade. His column is ‘You Don’t Say’, and he has a Facebook page.

His post ‘The Law of Conservation of Peevery’ on 8 August considers the ‘tradition of lamentation that has wagged its head and clucked its tongue over the precipitous decline of the language virtually since the Norman victory at Hastings’. The peeverein should read it, but of course they won’t. I recommend it in its entirety (it isn’t long), but here are his trenchant comments on some of the tired old grumbles.

Every writer I have ever encountered has at one time or another written ‘it’s’ for ‘its’. So have I. The wrong neuron fires across a synapse; it’s a spelling error, for Fowler’s sake, not a crime against the Holy Ghost.

Complaining about slang is like complaining that the tides keep the ocean from being level.

Linguists describe languages as they exist. It’s pointless to whinge that they do not describe language as you imagine it to be.

Most people write inexpertly. Most people who write always have. Writing is not easy to master. If you have developed a facility for it, good for you. That does not, however, make you morally superior to those who have not, any more than mastery of any other skill, such as pie-making or plumbing, confers moral elevation. Curb your smugness.

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9 Comments

Filed under English Language, Grammar, Language

9 responses to “Curb Your Smugness

  1. You misspelled “Your”.

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    • I wish I’d been able to come up with such a constructive and intelligent insight into the subject being discussed. And one that so delightfully encapsulates the whole point of this post.

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      • ‘Most people write inexpertly. Most people who write always have.’ Of course, and most of the time most people haven’t been able to read or write at all. We should be glad that so many now can, instead of saying how badly we think they do it.

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      • Yes. Should I’ve added a sarcastic smiley-face emoticon, to help you understand the intent? I’d hoped readers of this blog wouldn’t need their hands held; perhaps I was mistaken.

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  2. I know. Now corrected. Thanks. It kinda makes McIntyre’s first point.

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  3. I’m pleased that you deliberately included a spelling error in your post’s title in order to provide an opportunity for the peeverein to curb their smugness. Thank you for providing such a needed service (and prompting a giggle) first thing in the morning.

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  4. You have, alas, committed haplogy: it’s peeververein, from English peever and German verein ‘association’ (lit. ‘union’).

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  5. Pingback: What should we call ‘Grammar Nazis’? | Sentence first

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