, , , , , , , , ,

Sundays are a Day of Rest – by which I mean a Day of talking about the Rest of my life; that is, outside linguistics.

In linguistics, there’s a rule that grammar is descriptive and not prescriptive.

We’re not supposed to lecture people about their use of double negatives.

We can’t send angry letters to Tesco for having a sign saying “Ten Items or Less” instead of “Ten Items or Fewer”.

Instead, our job is to consider why people speak and write the way they do, and account for differences from the “accepted” way of speaking and writing.

… Which was clearly too high for the makers of this sign

We’re supposed to say, “Wow, this is fascinating; people use “like” as a discourse marker! I wonder where this began…” We can’t ask people “LIKE WHAT???

Well you know what? I would rather be prescriptive.

I want to be able to tell people off for not knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re”, or “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

I want to tell people that “I learned him that” is not good English.

The difference between “its” and “it’s” is important. It’s not life and death, but it’s still important.

You don’t write somebody, you write to them. Unless they’re a character in a book you’re writing, that is.

Words like “best” and “favourite” and “tallest” are superlatives. This means you can’t add a “most” or a “least” onto them. “Most favourite” is a redundant phrase.

Please don’t capitalise every word. Do You Realise How Hard Normal People Find This To Read?

Café has an acute accent on the e. Otherwise you pronounce it to rhyme with “safe”.

While we’re on the subject of pronunciation; have you noticed that “pronounce” and “pronunciation” are spelled differently (that is, if you spell them correctly, like I have)? They’re pronounced differently too. Try it sometime.

I won’t tell you off, or have a long debate about the correct position of the apostrophe in Teddy-bears’ Picnic (which is, incidentally, right where I just put it); I’ll just take note in my head. I will judge you.

Yes, I know, I know, as a linguist, I’m supposed to see language as being descriptive. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Maybe it’s because I was raised by a very prescriptive grammarian, who corrected me on every “less than” for count nouns.

Well, for whatever reason, I’m a secret prescriptive grammarian. It’s a guilty secret I’m coming out about, in order to tell you this:

Sure, I’ll find it interesting that you pronounce “asked” as if it were spelled “arxed”, and I may even make a study on the use of the word “but” among Glaswegians. This does not mean I advocate it. Far from it: I will judge you.

You could have the funniest, most insightful blog posts ever, but if you ever misspell a word; if you ever incorrectly use an apostrophe in a blog title… I will not follow you. I won’t even be pushed to click the “like” button. If WordPress had a “blacklist” option, you would be on it.

Be warned.