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Posted: 08 March 2013 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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John McIntyre enumerates the various zombie rules.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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He missed “less/fewer.”

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Posted: 08 March 2013 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s a big one. The figurative use of literally probably belongs in the “room for judgment” column.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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What about “can I” for “may I”?  Is that one completely dead yet?  Certain elementary school teachers used to love responding to “Can I go to the bathroom?” with “Yes you can, but no you may not”.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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As with since/because, I’d say that it’s important to be aware of possible ambiguities that can result from ignoring the old “rules”, but I don’t fetishize them.

[ Edited: 08 March 2013 11:38 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 08 March 2013 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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As to contractions, while I certainly think it would be silly to forbid their use, I think it is a good idea, when writing in a highly formal setting, to avoid them, or at least use them very sparingly.  This is only true when writing in the most formal of formal settings, and, even then, it can be effective to use a contraction if one wants to adopt an informal tone for dramatic or other effect.

I’m a bit confused by the author’s suggestion that it is often, but not always, helpful to distinguish between that and which.  I assume he is talking about the essential/nonessential clause distinction (rather than the distinctions in that/which usage that nearly all native speakers of English observe, largely automatically).  Perhaps he means that if it is ambiguous as to whether a clause is essential or nonessential, it can be helpful to use that (if essential) or which (if nonessential) to help clarify which of them it is.  But I think one would have to contrive rather mightily to come up with a sentence where using which in place of that would create ambiguity as to the essential or nonessential nature of a given clause, or where using that instead of which would resolve it.  And ISTM that, even then, a that/which distinction would be unlikely to aid the reader unless the reader is familiar with the rule.  Of course, if your prospective publisher, employer, or house style guide directs you to make the distinction, you should probably do so (even if Joan Acocella thinks this is hypocritical), but I don’t think that that’s what the author meant when he said that one should often observe the distinction.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 04:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Besides, essential clauses are not set off with commas and nonessential clauses are.

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Posted: 08 March 2013 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Happily, I work in a sensible field in which contractions are not frowned upon in formal writing.

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Posted: 11 March 2013 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Every book on grammar, written either by accredited grammarians or renowned linguists, argues the rule on not “ending a sentence in a preposition” and all the other “bogus rules”.

The debate is four-hundred-years old, and has been buried a long time ago. The majority of prescriptivists have conceded, but Mr. Mcintyre resuscitates it, along with the “split infinitive rule”, because it’s a rule that has been dismissed by almost everyone, but constantly rehashed by descriptivists. Must I remind everyone that there are far more egregious solecisms in today’s language that need more attention?

There is not a scintilla of originality in his piece concerning “bogus rules”. Every book I’ve read on linguistics and grammar dedicate a chapter or two on these--what is considered-- archaic rules. The tautological premise is debatable, but frankly there is absolutely nothing original or constructive that can be articulated in favor of or in opposition to these rules. 

However, there is a slight falsity to Mr. Mcintyre’s position, (and to the many linguists who concur with his stance) on why he adheres to grammatical rules rather than defy them. He adheres to them because intrinsically he understands their importance and that correctness is predicated on “proper grammar”. Furthermore, Mcintyre postulates that he follows grammatical rules when he finds the occasion needed; in other words when he wants to be understood and to convey a specific academic impression.

I would think this has a taint of hypocrisy.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 03:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The reason opposition to these “rules” keeps cropping up is the same reason they are called zombie “rules”.  They are not and never have been rules of English grammar as defined by the language itself, yet there continue to be people who espouse them.  Recommending that you follow these “rules” if you are writing to an audience that will reject what you have to say because you did not follow these so-called “rules” is more practicality than hypocrisy.  And certainly, following these “rules” if you are writing for a publication that will reject your writing or change your wording in a way that you do not want it changed is a necessity.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Disinterested and uninterested deserve a mention, although I’m not sure in which category. I’ve always observed the distinction because I consider it a useful one but I’m well aware that the use of disinterested to mean uninterested has a long and respectable pedigree. I always remember Fowler, or perhaps his editor and reviser Sir Ernest Gowers, commenting that this was “a valuable differentiation in need of rescue”. Just how such a ‘rescue’ should be effected was not stated, although I’m sure letters to The Times and pedantic corrections of any oik ignoring the distinction would figure largely in the attempt.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I read somewhere recently that disinterested/uninterested is a relatively recent distinction that is not fading away, but rather becoming more common. I’ll have to dig around and see where I read that and if it has anything behind it.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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According to the OED, the prescribed modern distinction is almost an inversion of the original senses.  Uninterested is cited from ante 1646 in the sense of “impartial” and from 1661 in the sense of “free of personal interest”, but not until 1772 in the “don’t care” sense, whereas disinterested is cited from ante 1631 in the “don’t care” sense, and from 1659 in the sense of “impartial and without personal interest”. 

Not that that eliminates the usefulness of the distinction, or invalidates the modern assignment of meanings.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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That’s a turn-up for the book!

There’s also this in the MEU entry for disinterested: “Its use in the sense of uninterested was called by the OED ‘qy.obs.’ but this comment was withdrawn in the 1933 Supp. and modern examples were given.” It does seem that the sense was given a new lease of life in the 20th century after almost withering on the vine in the 19th.

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Posted: 12 March 2013 08:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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To Faldage:

They are not and never have been rules of English grammar as defined by the language itself…”

Language does not define itself; we the people define language and set the rules for grammar.  Furthermore, following your argument doesn’t it depend on what audience one is addressing? I would think your argument works both ways. Regardless, do you truthfully think that these rules are deleterious to discourse and writing. I don’t think so.

What is more worrisome, people who adhere to these “bogus rules” or people who can’t read and communicate intelligently?
An endless debate with varying opinions, but it seems that traditionalists are losing the war and the ramifications might have dire consequences.

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Posted: 13 March 2013 01:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I know* I’m going to regret asking, but what are these ramifications and dire consequences?

*Sometimes I just can’t help myself so my apologies to everyone.

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