It’s a Grammar Party! Dullards and Pendants Welcome

By March 4, 2011 language No Comments

Happy National Grammar Day! It’s time to celebrate all things wordy.

What’s that, you say? You aren’t sure how to celebrate this obscure holiday? Never fear—the National Society for the Promotion of Grammar has some ideas to get this party started.

You could host a potluck or food day at work (I realize that my posting is a bit late to help you here . . . but Krispy Kreme’s neon sign of glory is surely ablaze at this hour). You could wear a fun t-shirt or sing the theme song (yes, really).

How am I celebrating?

Tea with you would be eudaemonic. (Totally.)

Well, I’m going to have a spot of tea. Would you care to join me? I’ll even let you drink from my favorite mug. We can sip our warm brew and consider this excerpt from The Lexicographer’s Dilemma. Author Jack Lynch takes us on a history tour that presents The Evolution of “Proper” English, from Shakespeare to South Park. This passage sums up the reality of holding too tightly to specific rules for our ever-changing language:

There’s a strange phenomenon, little commented on by people who study language: the rules we learn as children often stick with us, no matter how absurd, long after we should know better. The key is to find the right balance of academic knowledge and writerly panache. Of course everyone thinks he or she has already found that balance. If others observe fewer rules than we do, they’re dullards; if they observe more, they’re pendants. Nearly all the people who care about language are convinced they’ve found the sweet spot between the know-nothings and the know-it-alls.1

Yes, we’ve conditioned our own palates for our special recipe of the sweet spot. His is too sweet. Hers is too bland. Mine is just right.

The reality is, we are both dullards and pendants, a mixed bag. Some rules we uphold; others we discard. And the English language is tricky! The Chicago Manual of Style alone has 900-plus pages of rules and helps. Then we have Strunk & White, the AP guide, Brown’s, and Webster’s . . . how can any one person grasp all the complexities of our great language?

We each have developed our own sweet spot based on our experiences and education and interest. We have sweet spots because that’s where we are comfortable. That’s where we can kick back and welcome others for a spot of tea.

All this to say, I’m going to tread lightly upon the sweet spots of others. Language and tea are best enjoyed with company. (Want to share your sweet spot with me?)

1. The Lexicographer’s Dilemma, Jack Lynch, (New York, NY: Walker Publishing, 2009), 115.

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