The following comment was made by a fellow blogger somewhere in the British isles. Click here to read the post that prompted his comment.
Submitted on 2011/03/06 at 9:06 pm
Who wrote the “rules’ of grammar? Grammarians. How did they decide what to write in their grammar” books? By observing what people said and wrote – usage. Then they came to their own ‘theories’ of what English grammar is (or might be) based on those observations and usage. Grammarians did not invent English. As such, grammar is descriptive and should not be prescriptive. From my experience, using was in your example rather than were is much more common. Trying to prescribe that people should use the subjunctive mood’ in that situation makes it sound like the English language is stuck in some Latin time warp. It’s not really worth getting worked up about.
This is my reply to the British grammarian’s comment:
Thanks for the visit, and thanks for the comment. In far too many instances, comments by viewers are content with saying Nice blog, or I agree or Your blog sucks, etc., but your comment is well written, to the point and welcomed. My first reaction was to respond at some length, but I realized that the subject is worthy of a separate posting on my blog. Stay tuned if you like—with my lack of typing skills it will take some time to create and publish.
And this is the separate posting I promised the British—an assumption on my part—blogger.
As I promised in my initial response to your comment, I have expanded my response into an essay that concentrates on current language restrictions in the United States. You cannot possibly know how pleased I was to receive a real comment rather than the usual one or two phrases given by others, comments such as nice blog, keep up the good work, you suck, etc. Comments such as yours are rare, to be treasured and responded to in kind.
Your comment has inspired me to reply in detail, perhaps more detail than you expected or wanted, and has given me far more than enough fodder for yet another lengthy essay on the use of the English language. I will cheerfully give you credit for stimulating me in that effort.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that you have touched a nerve with your comment’s statement that It’s not really worth getting worked up about. I submit to you that every teacher of English or for that matter every teacher of anything, regardless of the subject, should get worked up about the misuse of established English language mores when people with ivy league educations, some with multiple diplomas—attorneys, authors, doctors, high-ranking business leaders, presidents, millionaires and billionaires in industry and in entertainment venues—continuously violate the most simple rules—yes, rules—of everyday English.
I expect it from rappers, but not from the rest of our society—not from our president and not from the poorest children existing in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia or in the Okeefenoke Swamp area in south Georgia. As for ebonics, I abhor the term and refuse to discuss it, capitalize it or use it in a sentence—in fact, I will not even mention it in this essay—not even once.
The errors in everyday English that I discuss on Word Press are the little things in our society as regards proper English. My sainted mother, in 83 years of living, loving and learning accumulated hordes of homilies, parts of speech defined as inspirational sayings or platitudes. One of her favorites and also one of mine is the saying that admonishes us to take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Following established rules is one of the little things, and effective communication is one of the big things.
The fact that the use of was rather than were is more common is not justification to continue using it. If that were true—note the if and the were—many, perhaps most of us, particularly in certain geographic regions, would still be spelling out and enunciating the word nigger instead of crouching behind the N-word wall.
It is an immutable fact that when we voice that alternative word as the N-word, our listeners know full well that the psuedo word has been substituted for the real word, the one that resides in the speaker’s thoughts, and thus immediately is projected and comes to rest in the listener’s thoughts, and the speaker, the user of the non-word N-word, put it there, and the listener can place a suitable target—I mean label—on the speaker by charging racism. The very fact of not voicing the pejorative term raises the shade on the speaker’s thoughts and shines the bright light of reality on the term, one that was, and still is, common in many countries, including yours.
There is a host of words on which we place no restrictions on their spelling in our writings or in our conversations—we may decry their use, but that use is common in literature and in everyday speech. That includes such words as honky, whitey, jew, kike, redneck, abie, chink, jap, greaser, frog, goy, kraut, polack, guido, limey (those of the British persuasion should take special note of that one), paddy, nazi, slant-eye, slopehead, nip, squaw, uncle tom and zipperhead. The list goes on forever, yet our society and its preoccupation with political correctness does not mandate us to prefix any of those words with a capital letter and substitute a made-up term for the pejorative term—J-word for jews and japs, for example, or K-word for kike and kraut, S-word for slant-eye, slope-head and squaw and L-word for limey—go figure!
Yes, the list goes on forever and we will forever continue to create new pejoratives to add to that list. Regardless of the list’s length, we can freely use any of those terms in writing, not as pejoratives in and of themselves but as support for whatever communication we are presenting to our reading audience—any of those terms except one—can you guess which one? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two won’t count.
If the bromide that tells us that the thought is as bad as the deed is true, then every English speaker in the world is guilty, whether or not racially biased. When we voice the acceptable euphemism N-word, the banned word is in our thoughts, and it resounds just as loudly in our brain and in the listener’s brain as when we actually pronounce the banned word.
Just one more thought and I’ll release you and my viewers from bondage. A bromide in the English language is defined as a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. Our use of the term N-word is a bromide, a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. A bromide is also defined as conventional wisdom overused as a calming phrase, a verbal sedative.
This bromide has been foisted upon us as a tranquilizer, a medication, a verbal sedative prescribed by a liberal society in order to render us placid, peaceful and pliant, to purposely place us in that somnolent state of glorious oblivion—asleep—and to keep us there.
I propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America to allow us to call a spade a spade, a time-worn bromide that is now regarded as an epithet, a pejorative term, one that if used by a conservative member of Congress would probably bring Jackson, Sharpton, Braun, Powell, Conyers, Chisholm, Range, Jordan, Hastings, Jackson-Lee, Jackson Jr., Cummings and a host of others out of their respective congressional seats and on their respective congressional feet to simultaneously shout, Racist, racist, racist!, all wanting to order and exact the same penalty decreed by the Queen in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland—Off with their heads!
For proposing that amendment my head would be on the chopping block, perhaps the first to tumble into the waiting handbasket, yet I am guilty of nothing more than wanting to bring a modicum of sanity to our nation. Our national ship of state is drifting aimlessly on a sea of insanity as regards the use of words considered to be pejorative. As a nation we can consider ourselves to be an asylum for the insane, with the patients giving the orders—again, as regards the use of pejorative words and phrases.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
March 8, 2011 at 8:26 am
After being born in Venezuela and moving about a bit in the years before memories are concrete, I ended up in Trinidad. There I was educated in a typically British colonial school. Nice, actually, and they used the cane and we had to keep our shoes shiny. We were expected to understand the Queen’s English as a constrict, meaning that we worked within its rules.
To Americans, the idea of working within rules is like sending a dinner portion back to the chef for being too large. We Americans don’t like rules and we like big meals. We don’t easily follow what our leaders ask of us, nor do we listen much to grammarians.
During the American revolution, we begged the French for help. While they were considering what to do, they asked of Ben Franklin why the Americans didn’t field a large army and overwhelm the 20,000 British troops. The response was that America would not bend its founding values even to accommodate its freedom to have such values.
Simply put, we ain’t never bin much good at makin ennybuddy talk rat or taking inalienibul rats, period. Until recently, that is, and ironically enough it is during a time when grammar has declined to the level of the street thug.
March 10, 2011 at 6:18 am
Thanks for the visit, and thanks for sharing some memories of your early days, especially those in Trinidad where the cane ruled. My early days as a captive of the public school system in Mississippi exposed my backside below the belt to frequent contact with an 18-inch wooden ruler forcefully wielded by the school principal, usually for something I had done but often for something she thought I might do in the future.
She was a lady well past Social Security age, silver hair neatly plaited and coiled high above a deeply-lined face, always clothed in an ankle-length pleated black skirt and a white long-sleeved blouse with lace at the collar and wrists, and shod with black high-button shoes, a vision from the 18th century. In retrospect I believe that wooden ruler helped shape my life in addition to that backside area I mentioned.
Your analogy of sending a dinner portion back to the chef for being too large is, at least for me, an incisive indictment of today’s society in which, if we have nothing to complain about we will industriously search for and eventually find something—much as I do in my search for fodder—make that material—to use in a WordPress post.
I am in complete accord with your comment that our grammar has descended to the level of street thugs. If you are considering running for president in 2012, I can guarantee a substantial number of votes for you. Of course you would need to overcome the fact that you are not a natural born citizen of the United States, but many people feel that a precedent has been established for being otherwise, quite recently in the history of presidential candidates and those successfully elected to the office—in effect, the bar has been lowered, so go for it!