Sunday, 7 July 2013

Let's nail the language

I am clearing up the craft wreckage that normally accompanies a weekend market, and I am naturally led to muse on all the disasters of my life. These I have brought upon myself ever since I broke the rules of Gwynne's Grammar.

Gwynne's Grammar, by the way, is the law we all should follow if we aspire to be proper people, and not hairy bonobos grunting in a swamp of craft wreckage, incapable even of answering that question, Why You Are Shamed by the Mistakes You Make in English?

Gwynne's Grammar, should ye be unknowing about this, has not only been blasted by the BBC this week, it also has endorsement by 'the most important person in education' who is (not any child), but Michael Gove. Expect to hear GG landing on a school desk near you soon.

From wot I can understand, GG contains an assortment of punctuational prejudices, copywriter's notes, conventions suitable for a house style, cultural comments, rules gathered from technical writing practice and a few social observations thrown in for good measure. (One of which is not The author went to Eton, runs a business selling online courses, and has an eye for the right type of chums.) Beyond that, there is no grammar of the systemic functional linguistics sort, so I suppose we can be thankful for a small mercy.

However, it made me think.

I thought, I could do this!

Anyone who's anyone can surely dredge from their dark depths a personal ragbag of grammar rules, wild assertions, half-cock opinions, and rambling garbage!

Then here we go! Grit's Grammar Rules! Off the top of my head, my own prejudices, imposed upon Planet Internet!

Stop Yourself Being a Grammar Git with Grit's 10 Simple Rules!

1. Stick your verb up front.
Call a verb a doing word. Be prescriptive about this, no matter what those hoity-toity linguists say. What do they know? Putting your verb up front makes your writing active! Exciting! Works for all styles. Turns your voice into pure action hero, whereupon you may be highly sought after by the estate agency business. Failing to follow this rule indicates you are a decadent sort of character, running loose with your wordage. Liking to wear gold nylon 1950s smoking jackets, no doubt, being so out of touch with the modern dynamism of our global times.

2. Miss out the word the. (Except where it is essential.)
Save time, effort, and paper space. Space which you can use on later projects, like paper aeroplane making. The word the is unnecessary and should be banned. Except where it is needed for beauty or clarity, clearly. On the use of the, I will issue you with a licence and give you a quota.

3. I don't like the word it either.

4. Keep sentences short.
Obviously.

5. Never use the passive voice.
Who is speaking? Who is the agent? Who is the action hero of this sentence? It stands to reason that the passive voice must be exterminated. You must take control of your sentence, be in charge of it and accept full responsibility of the consequence! People who use the passive voice are certainly vile, duplicitous sorts: deceivers, ne'er-do-wells and burglars, creeping about to rob you of your life savings.

6. Avoid cliches.
People who use cliches are merely following well-worn paths to express themselves. This inevitably leads them into trouble with mixed metaphors and the like. Such as, If she were alive today she'd turn in her grave. A common trap. Be original. Take the lesser path and plunge into the undergrowth where no-one has a clue what you are talking about.

7. No commas before and.
Don't come to me with your fancy American style guides, putting your commas willy-nilly before and. The comma is a beautiful punctuation piece and should be used as a breathless pause, with calm restraint.

8. If you bold and italicise the same word, you ought to swing for it.
There is no good reason why anyone using ordinary written communication should do this, unless you are ignorant of typographic conventions. You probably steal sheep as well.

9. Take out all exclamation marks!

9. Frankly I don't care if you miss out the apostrophes.
I am with George Bernard Shaw. Get rid of the little bastards. They are the terrorists of the punctuation world, used by people who get their kicks from imprisoning other people.

10. Proof-read your own lists.
It is extremely and most annoying to see unnecessary repetitions, tautologies and simple mistakes. These would not happen if only you stopped to read what you just wrote.

10. Never use off on.
This really makes me see red. She goes off on one. You cannot have her off and on at the same time. It does not make sense! Where is she? Off? Or on?

Oh, I could go off on one now I've started, adding rules 11-398 about colons, the word totally and Jane Austen's use of the word and. But I think this list should be enough for you to adopt at your peril, and if it leads you into trouble, then you can blame Gwynne and Gove.

5 comments:

Deb said...

I had an English professor in college who said the word "that" is useless and should never be used and now I'm paranoid about it and edit it out of my own writing ruthlessly.

The thought of putting all the action words at the beginning of sentences makes me feel nauseated.

Grit said...

is your writing better without the 'that'? and sticking your verbs up front is a rule i was taught for instructional manual writing. i lasted at that job less than six months as well.

Irene said...

Luckily, when I was taught English, I learned very few grammar rules and have had to invent the wheel all on my own. I think I get it right half of the time and am forgiven because I am a foreigner. Commas tend to confuse me.

Ann Cordner said...

Now I'm confused. I never could get to grips with grammar and now there's new grammar rules, what!?

PS what's a verb? (only kidding!)

Grit said...

i order the commas about, irene; this works until i meet someone who gives them a different order and then i am afraid we colonels in charge just have to resort to blows to sort out our differences.

...i am telling you a secret here, ann. the grammar rules are *made up.*