Monday, June 10, 2013

It's a living language, y'all

"Grammar nazis" are all the rage these days on the internet, or at least it seems that way to me, at least within my circle of friends on facebook/twitter/etc. And mostly I find it amusing. I love Red Pen Brigade, which points out all sorts of spelling and grammar mistakes from signs, menues, etc. One of my own first blog posts, Ping's Big Shit, was about the appalling grammar in my daughter's class news letters.

However, I feel a bit stuck between two ideals when I think about it, because I also believe strongly in the concept of living language, meaning that I think language changes as our culture changes and that's okay, good even! I work to strike a balance between following reasonable rules of grammar/spelling with my belief that sticking too rigidly to rules is foolish, and that we should accept some of the natural changes to language. For example, I think people should learn the difference between your and you're (and that just ditching it all for ur is stupid). However I also think that since English decided to do away with thou and thee, it is only natural that a new way to differentiate single and plural forms of you would be adopted, therefore I find no problems with using the word y'all.

All of this is a overly complicated lead-in to my top favorite bits of living English, including my favorite not-real-words-but-they-should-be (and by not real I mean your 7th grade English teacher would circle them in the red pen of death, and maybe even write a little frowny face in the margin).


  • Y'all - Ok, I've mentioned this already, and even my browser spellcheck thinks it's a word, but up here in Minnesota using y'all seriously will get you some funny looks. And that is part of what I love about it (beyond what I said above).
  • The Oxford Comma - I fucking love the Oxford comma. It forces sentences to be clear when they otherwise could be left up to interpretation. This cartoon is better at explaining (and more hilarious). 

  • "Can you itch my back?" I know the right word here is scratch, but saying itch instead still gets the point across, and more importantly it drives my husband crazy, which is why I love to say it.
  • It's/its, your/you're, their/there/they're - using these words incorrectly is only possible in written language, which I think is by nature more formal than spoken. And using them incorrectly is usually a product of laziness or a lack of editing. So although forgivable now and then in emails, facebook, or (ahem) blog posts, if they are used wrong on signs or other printed materials there is no excuse. (and if somebody truly does not understand how to use them properly, that's just a depressing failure of our afore mentioned 7th grade English teachers.
  • Tinch - I'm not sure if other people use this word or just my family, but it means a tiny amount. "Would you like some pepper on that?" "Just a tinch, please." I like it because unlike "pinch" it's scalable and there are no physical actions (aka pinching) associated, which makes it more versatile.
  • Good vs well - I am ready for language to fully evolve here to accept good in more situations where well is currently defined as correct. More to the point, I'd like to stop being harassed by my players and teammates for telling them they played good today. To me it's akin to who vs whom. People can continue to use it "correctly" for all I care, and I will too... just not on the bench.
  • The semicolon - The semicolon is another fabulous gramatical tool that is underutilized; it allows you to join to independent clauses in a way that is much more clear than a comma. Also, a properly used semicolon will often make me think of my freshman English professor, Dr. Owen Jenkins, and he was a fabulous teacher (of slightly crazy). 
  • Frowny - If smiley gets to be a word, so should frowny. (so there, Chrome spell-check)
  • Lack of gender for stuff - I appreciate the comparative lack of gendered nouns in English because I took German for 6 years, and in that 6 years the most difficult thing was remembering the gender of every. single. object. The table is masculine, the sausage is feminine, the girl is neuter. What?? I am so glad we do not have that nonsense in English.
I can probably think of a hundred more points to make about English, especially since I've broached the topic of comparisons to foreign languages, but I think I'll save that and not language nerd all over you any more for today. Overall this is a pretty insane language, English. And I'm glad it's my first, because as much as I love learning languages, I think English would be a real pain to learn. 

13 comments:

  1. Gah, I'm with your husband; itch vs scratch drives me batty! You don't itch an itch, you scratch it!!! Itching an itch would just make it doubly itchy, and no one wants that.

    :D

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    1. heheh, yeah, but bugging him is more fun than being logical

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    2. Watch out or I'll buy some itching powder or something. (not really)

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    3. Watch out or I'll buy some itching powder or something. (not really)

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  2. I love the semicolon, even though my hero, Kurt Vonnegut had only terrible things to say about it. And you forgot to complain about the misuse of apostrophes when referring to plurals! "Fresh Watermelon's Inside!" Watermelon's what? Shoes?

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  3. Love the Oxford comma too, and all the other rules. It's good to know them in order to break them, at least to know if we're breaking them right. Well, I had to learn English many years ago ... and let me tell you, hard as it may be it's nothing compared to French for example, or Russian. :) But, yeah, it ain't an easy language.

    Silvia @ Silvia Writes

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    1. You're kicking the asses of most native-speakers.

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    2. What Jenn said!

      I think a lot of what makes one language harder or easier than another has so much to do with the native language of the learner and whether they are better at learning new grammar or new phonemes. I found Chinese much easier than Japanese because the grammar is so much easier and my pronunciation in chinese is good. And for me learning German was very easy, but my Chinese teacher in China thought German was the hardest language he'd ever attempted.

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  4. The Oxford comma should not be optional. Commas in general are something that people should be required to use correctly. For example, have you ever seen this example: Let's eat, Grandpa! (wit the comma) vs. Let's eat Grandpa (without the comma)! Commas are the difference between life and death. Get it right, people!

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  5. I normally don't do this, but I feel like you're asking for it:

    *menus

    "Y'all" is singular; the plural is "all y'all."

    A pinch is 1/8 of a teaspoon, so at least it is a measurable quantity.

    English is supposed to the hardest to learn, so yeah, when I lived in France I know this French-American woman, who spoke English really well, but also made some mistakes that are common to foreign speakers (because they haven't memorized all the dumb arbitrary rules), and she kept correcting my English until I wanted to box her ears, because I've been speaking it from birth and have an undergraduate degree in Lit&Comp and she didn't even start learning it until she was a teenager. But that's French people for you -- always right. Always.

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    1. haha, I was asking for it, I'm surprised nobody else call me out. Although I totally disagree about y'all and all y'all. All y'all is redundant.

      LOL @ french people. So true.

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