In Which The Writing Major Gets Indignant

I regularly listen to a podcast out of Seattle called "Too Beautiful To Live" -- TBTL for short. It's pretty cool, if you are like me and spend a lot of time driving and you think that an imaginary radio show which is basically about nothing but which is nevertheless unfailingly entertaining is a good way to spend a commute. TBTL has a blog, and a recent blog entry links to this Slate article about how the usage of language changes the meaning of words over time.

(Yes, this is probably going to be a week where I write about nothing of interest to anyone except me because I don't have any good pictures. Deal, McNeil.)

Basically, the gist of the Slate piece is that the meanings of words change when the words are used incorrectly by enough people over enough time. Not necessarily fake made-up words like "eleventy" and "stategery" and "agreeance" and "refudiate," but actual real-live words that currently exist in the English language, like "disinterested."

To quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I believe that this phenomenon is referred to as "the principle of common usage." And this will come as no surprise to anyone, but I don't like it. I admit that I am something of a pedant when it comes to the English language. You might not be able to tell here on Ye Olde Blogge, because I try to write conversationally -- basically, I talk to myself when I am writing these entries, and sometimes I even talk to myself right out loud, and believe me when I say that hilarity does not always ensue, either -- but I know full well that there are Rules. Spelling, grammar, and mechanics count in real life. Anybody who tells you otherwise is at best uninformed and worst outright lying.

Look: I did not read Webster's Seventh Collegiate Dictionary in the sixth grade for my health, people.

So I suppose it goes without saying that I have Thoughts about the Slate story. Ugly thoughts, most of them involving cuss words and liberal use of pejorative terms for "persons who are not very intelligent." It's not because I disagree with the author of the article in question, either, but because I think he should fight harder to protect the legacy of the language. We all should. Words have meanings, and just because a bunch of bozos with basic-level Power Point skills think that "duly noted" means "I agree" does not make it so. Just because some wonk in a corner office thinks that it's perfectly fine to use "irregardless" with abandon does not make it a correct word.

I mean really, it's a single word with a double-negative built in. No one but me sees the problem here?

Right now, of course, I am not Mom-the-Grammar-Nazi, but believe me when I tell you that once Shae gets into elementary school and we start with the Language Arts, there will be a fairly strict enforcement of the Rules in our house. We're not going to let her slack off on the math and science homework, not if we ever expect this kid to have any part of Winning The Future, and you better believe that Spelling and Grammar and Mechanics Rules will be strictly enforced. I abandoned the "no sugar" edict ages ago, but a self-respecting Writing major must have some standards, dammit.

  • Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
  • Misusing "i.e." and "e.g." will be punishable by death. OK, not death, put possibly the loss of dessert.
  • One space after a period in emails, two spaces after a period in academic papers, unless the assigned stylebook prescribes otherwise.
  • No, you cannot use Comic Sans for your book report. What are you, a Visigoth?
  • No, you cannot use 18-point type and 2-inch margins to make your paper "fit" the length requirements. Do you think I am stupid? Do you think I have never tried that myself?
  • If you are talking about the liquor, it is "Scotch." If you are talking about the people, it is "Scots." Trust me on this one. Your "History of Great Britain" professor from Glasgow will not think you are funny. It doesn't matter if your MS Word grammar-checker doesn't find the error.
  • Know where the quotation marks and other punctuation marks go in relation to each other. Know when quotation marks are required and when they are not. Ditto apostrophes.
  • "There" does not mean "their" does not mean "they're." "Too" does not mean "to" does not mean "two." "Its" and "it's" are not interchangeable.
  • Learn to properly diagram a sentence. Hardly anybody does this any more, but it is a useful skill for a writer to have, it will help you when you begin studying a second language, and it is a surprisingly effective party trick in college. Engineering and architecture majors love girls who can diagram things.
  • Have at least 50 words in your vocabulary that are more than three syllables and ten letters long. Know what they mean and how to spell them, and be able to use them in a sentence. I suggest starting with "onomatopoeia" because it is highly descriptive and useful and also my very favorite word.
  • If you ask me what words mean before you look them up in the dictionary, I am going to lie to you. Consider yourself warned. And yes, I will know.
  • I don't care what the other kids' parents say: YOU are going to do your History report at the library, using encyclopedias that were published before you were born, exactly as God intended. Wikipedia is not a reputable source for information. Nothing on the Internet is.
  • Reading the CliffsNotes is not anywhere near the same thing as reading the book itself. Are you trying to give me a stroke? No, I don't care that you think that Chaucer and Shakespeare are not written in "English."
  • No Notre Dame or Yankees fans in the house. Ever. (No, this is not technically grammar-related, but it's a rule that cannot be spelled out often enough.)
Of course, I can have all the rules in the world, and none of it will change the fact that I will probably spend the rest of my career taking orders from people who don't know an ellipsis from epilepsy, and who have never even heard of subject/verb agreement, let alone know how to employ it correctly.

"Irregardless" will always make me get up and walk out of the room, though.


  1. yikes did you get an estimate love mom

  2. Okay, but how do you feel about the Oxford comma? Also, I am *petrified* to write incorrectly around you now... Wait - did I do that right?!? *shifty eyes*

  3. I know you're not a Family Guy fan, but there is an episode where Stewie says that anyone who says "irregardless", "a whole nother", or "all of the sudden" shall be sent to a work camp. I'm pasting the link below



  4. I CAN GET BEHIND THAT IDEA 100%. (i do use "a whole nother" conversationally, but i know it's wrong when i do it. i'm being "ironical.")