Thursday, 16 May 2013

On Grammar and Causes

They published a letter of mine today.  In the paper it looked almost like this:

Robert Fulford's reference to the Apostrophe Protection Society reminds me of the group founded by me some years ago: the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Passive Voice (PFLPV).

It never had many active members (naturally), but it seems to have done its job.

Now I am thinking of founding a new society to protect the word "less." Not sure whether to call it the Anti-Fewer League or the More or Less Collective.

Hopefully, it will succeed too.

I say “almost,” because the editors couldn’t resist removing my final “Hopefully,” missing my joke about the campaign against that word, which I think was at its height in the 80’s.

Strange thing about grammar campaigns; they come and go like moral panics or other fashions.  Now we’re in the midst of a campaign in which people who care about grammar say you should always (well, almost always) use the word “fewer” where a few years ago the standard word was “less.”  So we get such monstrosities as “75 words or fewer” (on the letters page of a newspaper no less) or “one fewer province” (ugh).

Oh, well.  In between, or even before and after, there has been the attack on the passive voice.  And this at a time when people find it fine to say “Her and I met yesterday” (shudder).  Perhaps it’s precisely because people have given up on what used to be standard grammar for such things as “her and I” that they have latched onto foolish “rules” to make them feel they are still upholding something.

Who knows?  And who knows why fashions win adherents in other fields?  Where are the Jonas Brothers of yesterday?

The language does seem to be in flux, though.  On Twitter anything goes, and the language I was raised on (by reading the literature of the past century or two) seems to be fading.  But languages are always changing.  I do object to causes, though, especially when they make things worse.

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