While we’re on the subject of fading rules…

Another 20 years from now, comma splices won’t be comma splices.

They’ll just be commas.

That’s my prediction.

Twenty years from now comma splices will be correct because:

a) no one under the age of 30 (or thereabouts) knows what they are 
and
b) no one over the age of 30 (or thereabouts) has any idea how to teach them. 

Also, comma splices don’t exist in French.

French !

The French have a whole Académie dedicated to “fix[ing] the French language, giving it rules, rendering it pure and comprehensible by all,” yet they don’t have a rule that says Don’t use a comma to join two independent clauses.

Well, I say: If French people don’t have to care about comma splices, neither do we. 

And see:
Académie française
Participles that may be on their way out 

Who is doing the labeling?

Dangler.jpg

In the most obvious grammatical interpretation of this headline, it’s the parent who’s doing the labeling: we don’t get to the teachers until we’re inside the prepositional phrase the end of the sentence (“of his teachers”).

But in the most obvious semantic interpretation–which emerges once we take in the whole sentence–the credit for class-clown labeling shifts from the mother to the teachers.

In general, we want the most obvious grammatical and semantic interpretations to coincide. And so they might have, had the headline read, say, “Labeling my child as ‘class clown,’ his teachers showed their true colors.” Or “Hearing my child being publicly shamed changed my view of his teachers.”

What’s fun about the original–besides the fact that it snuck into a headline–is that the initial grammatical interpretation (mother as labeler) almost works. Indeed, if you really want to, you can probably come up with a context that actually does work for you. Perhaps conceptualizing her son as a class clown somehow helps the mother understand some of the otherwise inexplicable ways in which his teachers were treating him.

Now that I think about it, that may have been my initial take on what the commentary was about. Perhaps it was the bizarre parenting insights that it seemed to promise that got me to read beyond its headline.

Grabby headlines–maybe it was all on purpose!

Is ‘bad’ grammar a tell ?

I realized a while back that I base decisions about whether to trust an expert on the expert’s writing style.

Specifically: I instantly trust experts whose writing style signals that they want to be understood by non-specialists. I feel, intuitively, that they:

a) know what they’re talking about, and
b) want me to know, too.

I’m a bit more cautious when it comes to experts whose writing style signals that they don’t care one way or the other. 1

Experts who seem actively to wish readers not to have the first clue what they’re on about are another category altogether. Zero trust, plus a big round zero on the feeling thermometer.

Extended lean toolkit for total productivity,” for instance. No. Go away.

Having a reflexive trust in clear writing is the reason I came to own a copy of Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons years before I knew anything about phonics and/or the reading wars. His prose. Engelmann’s prose told me that he wanted everyone who picked up the book to understand every word in it. 

So I trusted he knew what he was talking about.

Recently, I’ve realized that I also use non-standard grammar as a tell. I take non-standard grammar, in speech and in text, as a sign of authenticity. 

By non-standard, I mean constructions like: “I am making this statement on behalf of me and my sister.”

Obviously, “me and my sister” is standard for the person using this construction. But it’s not Standard Written Englishand because it’s not, I reflexively assume the speaker (or writer, in the case I’m thinking about) is telling the truth as he sees it. 

Another example: “wrong” participles.

I heard a politician, a few weeks ago, use the construction “If we had went to that meeting.”

None of his colleagues say things like “if we had went,” and the fact that he does makes me see him as truthful in a way I don’t see the others as truthful. I see him as not “polished,” not “slick.”

I have no idea whether I should be making such judgments, of course (although I’m pretty sure the nothing-to-hide principle works in the case of education writers). 

But here’s my question: if a person wanted to fake authenticity by using non-standard grammar, could he or she do it ?

I’m pretty sure Katie can, but I’m pretty sure I can’t. 1

Which makes me think your average person can’t fake grammar. 

Your average person can lie.

Average people can lie about what they’re doing or thinking or planning or hiding.

But they can’t lie about what participles they use. 
.

1. Katie’s a linguist.