Home > Musings on diversity > Language on life support

Language on life support


I’ve got to admit the title is a bit dramatic. What I was actually thinking about was the tension between correct grammar and syntax, or more precisely, those who think they matter for some reason (of whom I am one)  and the popular tide.

I was thinking, as I was sitting in traffic, benchmarking the success of my applied driving strategy against a car beside me that I’d chosen to be in competition with – this is a guy thing, right? It’s not only me . . .

Anyway, I was thinking that my target car was fewer than one car length ahead of me. And then I started thinking about how few people would bother to use ‘fewer’ in that sentence, since ‘less’ has so clearly won the battle between countable and uncountable nouns. What does correctness mean in this case? Is it really an indicator of sloppy thinking to use incorrect grammar? Or is the whole concept of correct grammar some outdated elitist fantasy of how life should be.

When I told my son that data are, he was was shocked. Media has been singular for so long that even folks in the media don’t bother to acknowledge that they are a plural, not a unitary bunch. And don’t get me started on ‘neither of us are’.

After spending a lot of time teaching English, I have a large tolerance for variations on the language in pursuit of communication. And I don’t generally have a lot of patience for arbitrary rules and processes. But I do have an attachment to precision in language for those for whom it shouldn’t be an insurmountable difficulty – the oblivious and the indifferent.

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Categories: Musings on diversity
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