Memo to grammar cops: Back off!

From The Telegraph:

Md_horiz “Passions run hot when the discussion turns to language,” writes Rutgers English professor Jack Lynch in his sprightly new history of the notion of “proper” English, “The Lexicographer's Dilemma.” “Friends who can discuss politics, religion and sex with perfect civility are often reduced to red-faced rage when the topic of conversation is the serial comma or an expression like more unique.” Ain't it the truth? My favorite call-in radio program regularly invites “word maven” Patricia T. O'Conner to come on and talk about new and old figures of speech. O'Conner clearly prefers to marvel over the language's diversity, but the half-hour is inevitably eaten up by people kvetching about their pet peeves, more often than not some barely detectable error or non-infraction that makes the caller apoplectic — such as the phrase “gone missing,” which is “perfectly standard,” according to Lynch. But who am I to mock? I, who have gnashed my teeth countless times over the dangling participles that abound on NPR

Lynch would like us all to calm down, please, and recognize that “proper” English is a recent and changeable institution. “The Lexicographer's Dilemma” recapitulates the long argument between two schools of thought: the prescriptive — which holds that the job of language experts is to lay down the law by telling us how to speak and write — and the descriptive, which holds that compilers of dictionaries and other guides are in the business of describing, not dictating, how the language is used. The latter group includes most professional linguists and lexicographers, but the former — self-appointed pundits like the late William Safire and Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling rant about punctuation errors, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” — know that the real money lies in validating the ire of purists.

More here.

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