Should Grammar Rules Rule?

Last week, I happened upon Stephen Fry’s rant about grammar pedants, linked on Kindred Spirit’s blog. It’s subtitled “He doesn’t go the way you’d think”, but in case, like me, you have no preconceptions about which way he’d go, I’ll summarise for you: he thinks people should embrace language and stop getting hung up on other people’s use of it and so-called “correctness”.

But neither Mr Fry nor any of the other anti-pedants are going to stop me trying to spread a bit of “proper” grammar through this blog’s Thursday posts. Because there are times when one needs to know the rules, and even when one ought to follow them.

At 4.44ish, he admits that there’s a place for formal language in the same way that there is a place for formal clothing – in interview scenarios, for example. And you can’t put on a suit if you haven’t got one. Casual language is fine … great even. I use it all the time (“imma” is one of my new favourite words) and I firmly believe that English should be a living language. Shakespeare, whom none could accuse of being less than linguistically excellent, made up words and messed with grammar right, left and centre and, ultimately, all language was newly-minted by someone at some time or another. I’ll tell you what’s conventional, you can choose when and whether to follow the rules, OK?

Also, many of the readers of this blog are writers. Just after 1:50, Stephen Fry mentions a famous line from Oscar Wilde’s covering note to his publishers: “I shall leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches,” he said. Fry suggests that this admission of frailty by such a “lord of language” lets we lesser mortals off the hook with regard to correctness. Great, but I submit that until we reach the heady heights of international acclaim attained by Messrs Fry and Wilde, we had better not expect publishers to give a second glance to a manuscript littered with inaccuracies and errors.

2 Comments

Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

2 responses to “Should Grammar Rules Rule?

  1. Lyn

    until we reach the heady heights of international acclaim attained by Messrs Fry and Wilde, we had better not expect publishers to give a second glance to a manuscript littered with inaccuracies and errors
    Ain’t that the truth! 😉

  2. I watched that video of Stephen Fry’s and really liked it. I think there is a place for proper grammar (heck, I use “whom” in normal conversation) but I think the place of it is to preserve clarity, not constrain the language. There is some writing online that is totally incomprehensible because the grammar and punctuation is terrible and the writers are not helping anyone. I guess what I’m saying is that the rules aren’t there for their own sake and we should feel free to break them if we need to as long as our message is still getting across.

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