Three Grammar Rules You Can (And Should) Break


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But, there are exceptions. Strunk Jr. and EB White is a nice little read, and it actually delineates things real writers want to know.

I agree 100% and I came back to this topic just to recommend STRUNK AND WHITE'S ELEMENTS OF STYLE. I pick up used copies for a dollar and then give them out to people (mostly young people) who tell me that they want to write. I learned about the book from Linda Tannehill, actually. Her training - her degrees; I think she made the master's - was in elementary education and as an Objectivist, she really got the "epistemology" side of it whereas Tanny (Morris) was all into the politics and morality. Anyway, Linda had the 21 Rules over her typewriter and it shows in The Market for Liberty. Even now, I am humbled by the clarity of presentation.

Often, I strip naked and do air conducting while reciting Milton, and synch it all to disco music. Then, I invite friends over to watch me do it, I drink, I pass out.

Sometimes, they leave nice notes on me.

Not in the same league at all, but I had a criminology professor who said that his research consisted of drinking beer while watching reality tv. So, we bought him a six-pack of Elliott Ness (from Burning River Brewery in Cleveland), and with a stamp pad, left our finger prints on the bottles.

Mike M.

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As I heard it, a tourist was touring Boston a...

Well, as for Boston and grammar... The guy gets off the plane at Logan and hops in a cab. "Where to?" the driver asks. The man says, "Can you tell me where to get scrod?" And the driver replies, "Mister, I've been asked that question a million times, but never in the pluperfect subjunctive."

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It depends on who you are writing to and what you are selling.

I typically write computer user manuals at a ninth or tenth grade level. The two killers are sentence length and word length. With bulleted lists, I can push that down to sixth grade. Sometimes people shake their heads at what they expect to be the dumbing down and general illiiteracy. However, I point out that when a production line is down for a million dollars a minute, your engineers are not looking for a literary experience.

After 25 years of that, I found that my vocabulary had fallen to the lower third or quartile of college graduate school candidates. "Perfidious" I knew, but "temerity" I did not. English enjoys a rich and powerful treasury derived from successive inclusions of different branches of Britannic, Germanic, and Romanic peoples, followed by a literary explosion[1] that drew in classical Latin and Greek. No sooner had writers caught their breath than "Indian" and Indian words from tomahawk to bungalow forced new efforts of assimilation. At the same time, the grammar necessarily simplified.

Languages live. They change. They must.

However, "if you follow the herd, you have to step in what they leave behind." If you listen, you will hear the past tenses shifted backward. African Americans place much in the past perfect. "I had gone to the store..." or "I had went to the store..." All that was intended was simple past: "I went to the store." The Aristotlean philosopher who pointed this out to me suggested that it was a kind of social distancing. By placing the event farther and more completely in the past with the action completed and not likely to be repeated, any emotional content is softened for the listener. Maybe. I don't know. But it is interesting to consider. The point is that for internet writing, I would use simple past if only because it requires fewer words.

[1] -- I recently wrote an article for a history magazine about the great fairs of Champagne -- whence the "troy" ounce for measuring silver and gold. People of the mid-1100s who wrote letters were self-conscious of and (perhaps falsely) apologetic for their "modern way of writing." Their Latin was not that of Cicero and Caesar. It was at this time that Chretien of Troyes wrote the Arthurian legends for the court of Marie of Champagne. Professional writers were known to the castles of the counts.

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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Elliot Ness is good beer--it's really good when you go there and they've just made it.

Yeah, writing...I use the Luce Libre technique: dreaded, damaging, forever morphing.

rde

A good move for scoring chicks in FL is if you bring your ee cummings book to the pool.

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Farther is for space. Further is for time.

Right you are, MS! I will try to remember. It's a colloquial problem from where I grew up. "Further down the road" was common, albeit wrong, even for broadcast announcers -- and not just the Indians -- and not much ameliorated by the English teacher (junior high class; not her nation of origin) who said "futher" for both, thus, perhaps, avoiding the problem entirely, or not... At least, I do not write "warsh" for cleaning with water.

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They can be avoided easily by substitution of a single word, such as "endure", etc. I don't see that one's style is seriously cramped thereby.

It depends on who you are writing to and what you are selling. If I were selling a dog training course, I would never expect good results from:

"Are you tired of hearing neighbors complain about your dog's barking? Well, that's one thing you don't have to endure!"

:)

You could always tell the dog owner prospect:

"If you use the techniques in my course, I don't see that your dog's happiness will be seriously cramped thereby."

:)

??? What in hell's wrong with those constructs? They sound just fine to me. Except, of course, for the dangling "that" (I don't know the technical term for it, but I was dinged for it in Freshman English and I never forgot the lesson) in the first one. Should be something more like, "Well, that indignity is one thing you don't have to endure!"

Judith

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What in hell's wrong with those constructs?

Judith,

They won't sell dog training as well as more colloquial constructs. Split test this if you don't believe me. Here's how.

1. Find an affiliate product.

2. Set up two landing pages for it, one with an erudite form of text and another based on copywriting principles, but make everything else identical.

3. Run whatever publicity campaign (or Adwords) you wish, merely making sure that both sites get the same treatment and traffic.

4. Look at the conversion stats.

I have no doubt the erudite text will tank compared to the other one. I have already read of many cases where this happened.

Like I said, it depends on your purpose.

This is a relative issue, though. If you are selling high-ticket high-prestige items, a classier style will do far better than a colloquial style.

Getting back to the point of the original post, if you are aiming at a large readership on a blog (leaving aside blogs devoted to erudite topics), it is a good idea to use a conversational tone and break traditional grammar rules if this helps keep matters easy to read and scan. If you don't care for a really large readership, that's another issue.

Michael

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Farther is for space. Further is for time.

Right you are, MS! I will try to remember. It's a colloquial problem from where I grew up. "Further down the road" was common, albeit wrong, even for broadcast announcers -- and not just the Indians -- and not much ameliorated by the English teacher (junior high class; not her nation of origin) who said "futher" for both, thus, perhaps, avoiding the problem entirely, or not... At least, I do not write "warsh" for cleaning with water.

Farther/further. Is this the space/time problem? Thus we can integrate English with physics. It's all the same thing! We don't need no math! Jes Good English!

--Brant

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The erudite text will what???

Judith,

Tank.

Fizzle.

Not produce good results with respect to the commercial goal.

See here from The Free Dictionary: tank.

v.intr.

Slang To suffer a sudden decline or failure: "Steady investors . . . kept their heads when the stock market tanked in October 1987" Burton G. Malkiel.

Michael

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Farther is for space. Further is for time.

Right you are, MS! I will try to remember. It's a colloquial problem from where I grew up. "Further down the road" was common, albeit wrong, even for broadcast announcers -- and not just the Indians -- and not much ameliorated by the English teacher (junior high class; not her nation of origin) who said "futher" for both, thus, perhaps, avoiding the problem entirely, or not... At least, I do not write "warsh" for cleaning with water.

Farther/further. Is this the space/time problem? Thus we can integrate English with physics. It's all the same thing! We don't need no math! Jes Good English!

--Brant

Later that evening, I realized that we here in the midwest do, indeed, measure distance by time. Honestly, when someone asks "how far" something is, we might reply "About 20 minutes down the road."

Correct: According to my timetable, we should be further along.

(Refers to time)

http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000213.htm

That, to me, is a bad example.

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Thinking is not the only purpose of language (including grammar). I know where you got that from, though. Here is a quote from Rand (ITOE, P. 69): ... First and second do not mean one and zero. Treating them as the same is the most common error in thinking I see with Objectivists (not all, but far too many to ignore the pattern). In other words, in handling concepts:

I would have let that go -- you can't argue everything all at once -- but as Ted Keer hit on it again, let me say here:

1. I did not get the idea from ITOE, though it is in there and I did read it there, of course. I learned the importance of grammar from a lecture I attended on the Principles of Efficient Thinking some years before ITOE came out. I have always been a grammar guy -- Baal would call me a Asperger grammar nerd, but I loved diagramming sentences; but I got through most of literature with Classic Comics.

2. I don't know about that 1/0 <=> Primary/Secondary stuff or where you invented it from but after a couple of days of letting it sink in, it did not. I did not intend that or think that way or asusme that, not even implicitly, and certainly not in my own mind. So, to continue your previous analogy, you failed to enter the conversation I was already having with myself. So, if Life imitates Baseball, then the score is

Cognition 1

Communication 0.

"... and the Cogs come to bat with the Commies take the field here in the second inning!"

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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I have no doubt the erudite text will tank compared to the other one. I have already read of many cases where this happened.

The erudite text will what???

"tank" as if being dunked in a deep tank of water. see also "deep six" and "eighty-eight" akin to "Davy Jones."

Judith -- there is nothing wrong with your finding nothing wrong with "erudite." Your other acceptances of correct, if wordy, statements is also personal, subjective, and valid. In a recent class in social psychology, we talked about the commercials running on TV for beer. I had to listen. We just got TV. Anyway, it was said that Sam Adams Beer plays up its colonial era craftsmanship and quality, whereas Budweiser sells friendship and enjoyment. MSK is selling Budweiser and you are buying Sam Adams. There is no problem with either. You are talking past each other. Judith, you seem to be the kind of upscale clientele buyer who is not distracted by content in an ad and, indeed, who is motivated by it. MSK is not chasing that market.

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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"tank" as if being dunked in a deep tank of water. see also "deep six" and "eighty-eight" akin to "Davy Jones."

I assumed it wasn't a good thing based on the context. Thank you.

Judith -- there is nothing wrong with your finding nothing wrong with "erudite." Your other acceptances of correct, if wordy, statements is also personal, subjective, and valid. In a recent class in social psychology, we talked about the commercials running on TV for beer. I had to listen. We just got TV. Anyway, it was said that Sam Adams Beer plays up its colonial era craftsmanship and quality, whereas Budweiser sells friendship and enjoyment. MSK is selling Budweiser and you are buying Sam Adams. There is no problem with either. You are talking past each other. Judith, you seem to be the kind of upscale clientele buyer who is not distracted by content in an ad and, indeed, who is motivated by it. MSK is not chasing that market.

Interesting analogy. I don't watch TV, so I'm not familiar with the current ads for either. Odd thing is, though, I always liked the YouTube links that people sent me for the playing horses in the Budweiser commercials, especially the holiday one with the horses playing in the snow. Since I don't like beer, though, it wouldn't get me to buy the product. :-)

Judith

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Writing is fairly simple. First, you have to learn how to do it. You will know how to do it when others begin to remotely decipher your scratchings. Often, this will cause both parties trouble, mostly you, involving misinterpretations. This is your fault.

After this, you read more, practice, improve. This goes on for years and feels like a rash.

If you get through the rash stage, you realize it is about being yourself, finding your own voice.

This sounds simple, but it isn't.

I recommend firing yourself as an editor; that seems to work pretty well. After that, go find one that will tolerate you.

rde

Edited by Rich Engle
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I don't know about that 1/0 <=> Primary/Secondary stuff or where you invented it from but after a couple of days of letting it sink in, it did not. I did not intend that or think that way or asusme that, not even implicitly, and certainly not in my own mind. So, to continue your previous analogy, you failed to enter the conversation I was already having with myself.

Michael,

That's easy to answer. I have no idea what conversation you were having with yourself (since I was not profiling you to sell you anything), but I do know the conversation you were having with me. Here are your words:

MSK, let me take these in some order of importance. Again, I stress that the purpose of grammar is to help us think clearly and deftly. That is the standard for me.

I do not understand such a heavy amount of emphasis to mean: "Thinking and communication are the inherent components of language (and grammar), with thinking having more fundamental importance than communication."

I understood it to mean: "The purpose of grammar is to help us think. Communication is not the purpose of grammar."

You capped it by saying this was "the standard for me" (with standard being singular).

That's where I got the 1/0 cardinal notion from in your statement. I have no problem if you wish to qualify that and make it ordinal.

btw - You wanna buy some beer?

:)

Michael

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Later that evening, I realized that we here in the midwest do, indeed, measure distance by time. Honestly, when someone asks "how far" something is, we might reply "About 20 minutes down the road."

That's ok, space and time are two aspects of the same thing - space-time. :D What about light-years?

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I do not understand such a heavy amount of emphasis to mean: "Thinking and communication are the inherent components of language (and grammar), with thinking having more fundamental importance than communication."

I understood it to mean: "The purpose of grammar is to help us think. Communication is not the purpose of grammar."

In that case, you misunderstood my words.

"Post #8

I disagree. I learned from an Objectivist lecturer that the rules of grammar exist to help us keep our thinking clear. I also learned from a different Objectivist that the primary purpose of speech is to enable thought. (Communicating with others is a secondary goal.)"

That's easy to answer. I have no idea what conversation you were having with yourself (since I was not profiling you to sell you anything), but I do know the conversation you were having with me. Here are your words:

Oh, Mike, that's not true. All sales is getting someone to agree with you. Certainly, someone as intelligent and handsome as you are already agrees with all of his Objectivist friends that Barbara Branden and Ayn Rand were correct in their observations and explanations of the facts of grammar. Our esteem for your achievements is our objective expectation that you will identify the facts of reality and resolve the contradiction that cannot exist. We like you because we know that you will agree with us, but the choice is yours and yours alone: A or non-A.

"Profiling" has yet to prove itself. In the 1940s, sociologists Robert Merton and Paul Lazarsfeld sold their theories of opinion polling to some corporations and the field grew to an industry in its own right. Those who sell sophisticated. i.e., expensive, mass marketing claim that they know the reasons why some tenths of a percent of cola drinkers switch brands, L. Neil Smith has labeled such conceits "Asimov's Fallacy." James A. Brussel's profiling of "mad bomber" George Metesky is considered significant. In point of fact, no profiler ever cracked a case. You cannot gather enough demographic information to profile any individual to sell them anything.

Any product or service that meets a need attracts people who know that they have that need. That is a tautology.

That fact relates directly to this topic on grammar because the claim is being made that colloquial and vernacular speech used in print, including the internet, sells more goods and services than does a clear statement of fact. That may well be true. You say anything to a million people and if you mean something by your words, then someone else in that crowd will understand you and agree. If the crowd is big enough, you will still find someone whose mind is consonant with meaningless utterances.

You ain't got grammar

you ain't got love

Buy Stile

Grammar you need for sex you get!

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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Certainly, someone as intelligent and handsome as you are...

Michael,

I am a sucker for flattery.

All is forgiven and duly agreed...

Michael

And I know when I have been proved wrong by the better man. :D

Mike M.

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Michael,

Let me be the English usage Nazi right now. You wrote: "By placing the event farther and more completely in the past..."

Farther is for space. Further is for time.

(There are other usages, but these two suffice for this point.)

:)

Michael

For two years, 2004-2006, I edited the quarterly magazine of the Michigan State Numismatic Society. I then turned it over to another enthusiast and I now serve as websmaster for www.miichigancoinclub.org. The editor asked me for copies of my backups for his files. In my reply, I wrote

If I cannot make the time to create a complete set for you -- and that could be a thumb drive -- then I will just give you everything and let you return them to me at the next Board meeting a few months down the road.

Would that be further down the road in time or farther along the calendar in distance?

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  • 1 month later...

The first is complete rubbish. I've heard this "rule" parroted multiple times by multiple people, but they're never able to explain 'why' you should follow this rule. Modern grammarians have no problem with sentences ending in prepositions. It's nonsense on the level of "most people only use 10% of their brains." It was probably spread around in the same manner: somebody heard someone's sister say this, so they have to repeat it, and it goes around and around until you might think it a fact as firmly established as any of the laws of physics.

The second and third are useful as guidelines. A sentence beginning with an 'and' or a 'but' never hurt anybody, but if you abuse it too much you get lazy writing. As for splitting infinitives, most people just can't do it well. Following these guidelines in general is not a bad idea, but don't be afraid to deviate from them when you need to.

Edited by Michelle R
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