Re: Display or appear (read the dictionary!)

Subject: Re: Display or appear (read the dictionary!)
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2001 14:30:42 -0700

Elna Tymes wrote:

I question whether you really mean that. When I or someone from my company
does something for another company, I am putting my professional reputation on
the line, as well as the client company's reputation once the product reaches
publication. While there may be some readers who don't flinch at misuse of
"display" or "appear," there are probably more who learned proper grammar one
way or another and perhaps unconsciously think less of the company for allowing
consistent grammatical errors in their material. I'm not willing to deliver
such a product to a client.

I was talking about my influence on the development of the language. It would be arrogant and more than a little self-deluding to imagine that a manual of mine would have much influence on English. It might have some if other tech-writers liked my way of writing and copied it, but I wouldn't even expect that to happen very often.

Naturally, I try to write well and as error-free as possible. I'm a professional. I'm well aware that proper English has the highest prestige of the various types of English available to me, so that's inevitably what I use. In fact, after 11 years of teaching it at university, it's almost my native form of English. However, I use it to take advantage of that prestige, not because it's correct.

By contrast, last year I was writing a regular column for a Linux magazine about open source development. The magazine was a sister publication to Maximum PC, which prides itself on attitude and affects a slightly racy style - no actual swear words are allowed, but slang and some suggestiveness is encouraged, as well as a lot of humor. For this magazine, proper English would be grotesquely out of place. I started my first column with the sentence: "Old farts in suits call it communism" - and then I had to stop because I was laughing so hard at the thought that a standard-English speaking boy like me would write such a sentence.

The point is not that you shouldn't write in standard English. The point is that you shouldn't give it a special status. Instead, just regard it as one of many possible choices you can make.

Just so you know, new editions of dictionaries come out regularly, and are
updated whenever they do. The process of deciding what gets in and what
doesn't is usually spelled out in the front of the dictionary and actually
makes for an interesting read. I suspect you'd change your mind about English
standards being "out of date" if you read one of those introductions.

I'm well aware, thanks - and I stand by my comments. Until five years ago, I was on most of the academic publishers' freebie lists for grammar books, and I still have a lively interest in dictionaries and similar references.

Our general attitude to grammar is changing, but slowly. In particular, in the last few decades, more emphasis has been placed on speech as the general standard for usage. But dictionaries are slow to publish, and can't catch everything.

For instance, the example of "alright" that you give is hardly new. So far as I can determine, this spelling first became widespread in the late Forties. So, while to talk about using it is commendable, it's hardly in the forefront of linguistic change.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"I work for the pleasure of stopping,
I stop for the pleasure of beer."
-The Mollys, "The Lang Town"

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RE: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Steven Brown
Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Bruce Byfield
Re: Display or appear (read the dictionary!): From: Elna Tymes

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