Everybody Put Down the Switchblades: English Changes, and That’s Okay

The_Rumble_from_West_Side_Story_1957“Where’s that guy we caught splittin’ an infinitive last week?”

“He’s still in the ICU.”
“Grammar Rumble” imagines what would happen if our grammar hang-ups escalated to Jets vs. Sharks-level fervor. Like most satire, it’s funny because its silliness reveals a teensy bit of truth.
While we don’t know of any actual usage-related emergency room visits, we do know that many people’s mob-like loyalty to outdated grammar rules is alive and well.
Rules like “you can’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Or start one with a conjunction. Or use the word “over” when what you really mean is “more than.”
This came up recently as a request from one of our customers. They asked us to avoid starting sentences with conjunctions like “but” and “and” because doing so was “ungrammatical.”
Just for fun, I looked at the day’s lead story on the Wall Street Journal and New York Times websites. Both included a conjunction-starting sentence. (See the fourth paragraph of this story in the WSJ and the second-to-last paragraph of this article in the NYT.)
The Grey Lady’s doing it—what more validation does a poor writer need?
We know it’s confusing when the rules that were drilled into us as kids no longer seem to hold true. But that’s the awesome thing about English—it’s always changing. And if everyone uses and understands a certain construction, we can’t very well call it “wrong,” at least in less-formal writing.
In the Grammar Rumble, things don’t turn out well for our leather-clad grammar stickler. But don’t worry—we’re much more forgiving. A huge part of our work is following clients’ style guides to the letter. And if that includes avoiding certain style pet peeves, we’re more than happy to oblige.
We simply recommend that everyone keep an open mind toward language’s continual evolution—or risk an all-out turf war.
If Samantha ran a street gang, it would be the Dragonflies (what else?).


Related Posts

Learn more about making Dragonfly part of your team

Enjoying our content?

Sign up for our monthly newsletter, with tips on writing, editing, and design.