D’you know what? The English language is imperfect. Also, sometimes it offers way too much choice. Anyone for a proem?
Pretentious or what? And isn’t the English language stuffed to bursting with mischief and wonders? A beautiful living abstract that continues to evolve beyond conventional shibboleths: more or less a democracy that actually works…
The English language is a living thing; a beautiful, breathing beast that cannot, nor never will be captured by boards, papers or algorithms. Nor will our words, in this sweating and straining mix of metaphor, walk tamely to heel. On my word unleash the hellish dogs of grammar.
Me? Like the English language I am full of mischief and wonders. I am an accidental grammar pundit. Is that ‘accidental grammar’ or ‘accidental pundit’? Or both? Over the last few years I have been adopted as, what it suits the BBC to describe as ‘a grammar expert’, and, as a regular on @BBC5Live’s Up All Night word and grammar phone-in, I quite naturally fall into rôle as defender of contemporary English usage. That, it seems, puts me somewhere on the liberal leftwing, lingowise: an evolutionist not a creationist.
A BBC ‘expert’ used to be defined as ‘someone who knows a bit and lives close to the studio’. In these days of digital possibilities that definition could be narrowed (or broadened, depending on your point of view) to ‘someone who knows a bit’. That’s me. I know a bit. Just enough to be mischievous.
Getting ahead of myself I’ve already lost count of the number of exceptional challenges to traditional sensitivities that any grammarian supremacist may wish to discern and deplore in my going-forward discourse. Join in: let’s make it intercourse. I should of paid more attention, of course, but this is written in my version of British English. I’m too busy using it to worry about it. Hopefully it’s quite similar to yours, well, close enough for you to understand what I’m getting at anyway. And that’s the point. Isn’t it? Unless you are going to get picky about the ‘quality’ and ‘correctness’ of my tongue.
The idea with this blog is to take a positive, celebratory look at English as she is – what? – spoke, writ, mangled by those who use her. We are all, after all is said and done, experts in our own particular interpretations of the English language. You may be seeking to ‘improve’ or standardise (unless you prefer ‘standardize’) your expertise but what we have here is the beginning of a kind of a word ’n’ grammar blog with less hard and fast dos and don’ts that go to boldly break than you’ll find in most books and blogs with ‘Grammar’ in the title. And, perhaps, just a tad more encouragement to go boldly your own way. And, while I’m in that infinitely split zone, why not go one step beyond, enjoy the Madness (of the heavy heavy monster sound/the nuttiest sound around) and start a sentence with ‘and’?
I am not a linguist. I am a language user. I use language everyday. I have learned but I am not learnéd. And, truth to tell, I am a bit of a lingua francaphile but not obsessive about it. This blog is set to catalogue my understanding. It’s written for you: the only true expert you know.
So, let’s start with a stupid question. See if we’re on the same page.
What’s the purpose of language? (Let’s stick with, speak as you find, the spoken stuff for the mo.)
Communication. To communicate.
Hey! Good answer. Great answer – the answer I expected to honest – they’re the best answers – what you want to hear, isn’t it folks? Truly great. We have all the best answers.
What you choose to communicate is your business but, whatever it is, you need to communicate. No question. You choose the words, nouns, verbs, whatever; the message is the same. Now let’s get this into some kind of perspective. It is estimated by the people who know about these things (psychologytoday.com in this case) that the non-verbal stuff is much more important than words: 55% of communication, more or less, is body language, another 38% is in the tone of voice, which leaves 7% for spoken language. Approximately.
The ideas you choose to communicate may be a matter of life and death but not so the words. Picture a person in peril. Screaming, waving, desperate for HELP! Do you actually need to hear the word ‘help’ to get the picture? Of course not. It may not even be the word ‘help’: worldwide there are more than 7,000 languages (thank you ethnologue.com). So does our language matter? Hell, yes! 7%, plus or minus the odd particularly contentious word, but including all that punctuation and structural stuff. It says a lot. About you.
Some people will judge you on the way you use the language. For instance, take that 7%. There is a school of thought that argues, when writing numerals, figures is a no-no. So, for them the solution is seven per-cent. Or should that be seven percent? It’s a minefield, a Holmesian conundrum of socio-grammatical prejudice. And the honest Shavian truth is that we all do judge everybody, don’t we.. ’Tis human nature. Style and grammar are factors in our conscious and subconscious measurings. The good news is that the majority isn’t (or aren’t) pedantic about their preferences.
So, that’s the intro, more or less. So – & that’s a word that really peeves some pedants when it’s used to start a sentence. Oh and I should of telled ya l’ll be cheekily slipping in the odd phrase ‘n’ that that is guaranteed to nark any random grammarian supremacist having a nose. Or whatevs, innit. So, basically, errors of fact, herein, are accidental, of course, but errors in grammar are deliberately included with intent to tease, obvs. How many can you find? There may be prizes for the most detailed enumeration. Not.
I have no idea why didn’t I entitle this first post o’the blog the Introduction. But proem? I am permanently offended on your behalf. Not even pro tem. I coulda called it the Preface, but no don’t get me started.
Welcome then to #Grammar’s Blog of Wordliness; Accidental Acts of an English Evolutionary. It’s as good a title as any. So, a needle pulling thread, let’s kick it off. Foreward!
 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle invigorated Sherlock Holmes with a 7 per cent solution of cocaine in The Sign of the Four (1890).
 In the puppet play Shakes versus Shav (1949) George Bernard Shaw adopts the monicker ‘Shav’ in a knockabout debate with Shakespeare.
 …or the result of poor research…