Language rules, take II

Subject: Language rules, take II
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997 14:29:17 -0500

Jim Purcell followed up on my intentionally provocative
note that "there are no language rules".

<<I know what Geoff is getting at, but let's not confuse
grammar with style. Grammar is a set of rules by which we
construct speech: subject-verb agreement, word order, that
sort of thing.>>

That falls into my second category, "we do this because
everybody agreed to more or less live by these rules".

<<Fortunately, grammar is pretty well understood, at least
by native speakers. About the only time we get tripped up
... is when we write an overlong, overcomplex sentence in
which we lose track of subject, tense, and antecedents.>>

If that were the case, I'd be out of a job (editing) and
I'd have to earn my living honestly... say, by technical
writing. <grin>

<<Style is a matter of appropriateness to the situation.>>

And that falls more or less into my first category,
"everybody does it even though it doesn't necessarily make
sense". I prefer to call this usage, which is more
all-encompassing than style. For example, when the Romans
decimated an enemy, they slew one in 10; when we do it
today, we slay 9 in 10. This is usage, not style. Actually,
it's splitting hairs... both names are equally good labels
for what I was getting at.

<<If this list is any guide, every writer's second hobby is
pointing out things in commercially published or in-house
style guides and usage dictionaries that she considers
arrant nonsense. While this is always a fun activity, it
misses the point of these documents. They should not be
interpreted as weapons of oppression wielded by inflexible
editors, but as compendiums of effective solutions to
common problems that work most of the time... You are, or
should be, free to ignore the style guide when you need to,
but know what you are doing and why.>>

Couldn't have said it better myself, though maybe if I
borrowed Jim's copy of the Microsoft style guide... <gdr>

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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