Dear grammar Nazis: Even Stephen Fry’s on my side.

October 20, 2010 •
stephen-fry-grammar

I’ve blogged a few times (and ranted many more) about the need for more readable writing, despite certain rules. Shame I didn’t put it quite this eloquently…

What are your pet pedant peeves?

What grammar Nazi laws annoy you the most? Please comment. Mine’s the one that forbids me to start a sentence with a conjunction. But that’s a whole nother story… 😉

Feel free to comment...
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Angus wrote on October 20th, 2010

Once you get me started there's a danger I won't stop, but... I agree about starting a sentence with a conjunction, if only because that's the one clients most often bring up, and it's hard to tell clients that they're prey to groundless superstition. But there are so many others. "Less vs fewer" - the idea that you can't use "less" with a count noun, so "8 items or less" is incorrect. There's no basis for this in historical usage, and besides, "less" is *always* used with certain count nouns, such as those involving measurement - you wouldn't say "I have fewer than 2 years to live" or "my house is fewer than 5 kilometres from the nearest train station". "Avoid the passive voice" - I've already bored enough people with this. The passive voice has its place! Plus, most people who cite this rule can't even correctly identify the passive voice. Even Orwell's famous admonition against the passive voice *was written in the passive voice*. "That vs which" - the idea that you can't use "which" to introduce a restrictive clause. Again, no historical basis in actual usage, just something someone made up because they think language should have neat edges. ...And many more. One of my favourite reads is the "prescriptivist poppycock" category on Language Log: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?cat=5

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Ann wrote on October 21st, 2010

I really enjoyed the way the animator used the type as well as the subject matter by Fry, whom (!) I've been following for some time on Twitter. Generally, I'm on the other side of the argument - against the dumbing down of the language to say nothing of the influx of Americanisms. But that's how the English language has always grown and developed. Sigh and :-)

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maxiewawa wrote on October 21st, 2010

My pet pedant peeve is tautology, which is redundancy in sentences. "Pet pedant peeve" might be an example. Wouldn't it be enough to say "pet peeve"? :p

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Vince wrote on October 26th, 2010

Glen mine is conjunction too. I remember back in my old days of being over educated and under employed when a lady criticised my version of a resume for starting a sentence with 'And.' She even went as far as to say I should know better due to my education in writing!! Sometimes people who come to conclusions about how things should be written actually have a more out-dated education of writing practices than those they are teaching to write resumes. I guess if the majority of people they come across know less than them about writing; it is probably difficult for them to accept a challenge to their old ways.

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Devin Miller wrote on October 26th, 2010

my pet peeve is the the lack of capitalization and punctuation used by the young computer generation who tend to write on and on and on without ever thinking that a period or comma or dash might breakup their sentence and clarify their meaning instead of just going and going and going as if just by their use of words one should be able to hear the rise and fall of their voice and know exactly where the pause lies and the sentence ends instead of these excruciatingly long run on sentences that kill me........ With that said, I'm not a Grammar Nazi. I believe that grammar is used to help clarify what is being said - nothing more, nothing less. Brilliant video - thanks for sharing.

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maryawrites wrote on November 1st, 2010

I am absolutely petrified of the grammar Nazi coming after me with huge guns. Having to learn English as a second language, for the past 30 years, doesn't help either. Cheers :)

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colin wrote on December 16th, 2010

My 18 year old son implies that I am a grammer nazi because I can't understand his slang use of the word 'allow.' I've enjoyed most of the recent re-tread of words like 'wicked,' 'bad,' 'sick,' 'long,' and so on but the way he uses 'allow' can not be allowed. Allow can mean forbid or omit or forget or promote or even allow. So the word has become totaly meaningless. When I tried to clarify the meaning of tonight's 'allow that dad,' I was directed to this video of Stephen's. Wer'e both fans. Please tell me that I'm not a Nazi.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on December 16th, 2010

No, you're not a grammar Nazi. You're just old. Like me.

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lustforlanguage wrote on February 8th, 2011

I popped over to read your blog post on songwriters and found this. Gold! Heheh, I denounced the use of the greengrocer's comma only today. But I do like to think that I'm not beholden to language rules. It's good to know 'em, but only so you can break 'em.

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Glenn Murray wrote on February 8th, 2011

@lustforlanguage, yeah, there's a big difference between using the 'rules' for effect (even if that effect is merely understanding and acceptance) and pedantry.

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Ells wrote on February 23rd, 2011

I agree that starting a sentence with a conjunction is OK. And I worked at a newspaper for five years, which is the last bastion of old-school grammar nazi-ism. But now that I work in marketing, I have to say the lax attitude about grammar and even SPELLING makes me crazy. Also, can we have a chat with writers of marketing narratives that the word said is FINE. You can use it over and over. You don't need to say remarked, added, discussed and exclaimed. Just use said. Over and over. It's OK. No one will notice.

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Marc Morrow wrote on March 5th, 2011

Growing up with a sub-editor as a father, it was somewhat inevitable that I'd become a grammar-Nazi. However, it wasn't long after I'd entered the design and publishing industries and had the chance to delve into promotional copywriting, that I discovered a certain expressiveness could be achieved through a little rule-bending. Pristine copy is a thing of beauty, but often plays in the mind like a sterile medical lecture. An occasional, deliberate and well-placed deviation can add a little something. My only peeve is sloppiness; errors that have obviously occurred because someone couldn't be bothered to get it right.

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Anna Roe wrote on October 21st, 2011

And my Year 11 English teacher corrected my use of 'and' to start a sentence. Many people write 'your' instead of 'you're' and 'could of' instead of 'could have'. Tautologies are just irritatingly annoying and run-on sentences make me wonder who taught English to the offender!

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