Commenter James C. on my “Grammar shit” posting:
What would you propose instead of ‘grammar’ as a cover term for things like spelling, punctuation, and other topics of peeveology?
I’ve pondered about this for quite a few years now; my current position is to challenge the folk categorization of all these things as having something in common. But first, a little history of IAG (It’s All Grammar) on Language Log and this blog.
Some IAG highlights (from Language Log unless otherwise noted):
AZ, 7/10/04: It’s all grammar (link)
To PITS, People In The Street, “grammar” embraces pretty much everything having to do with language, spoken or written, so long as it’s regulated in some way: syntax, morphology, word choice, pronunciation, politeness, discourse organization, clarity and effectiveness, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, bibliographic style, whatever.
AZ, 3/14/05: Two types of “errors” (again) and it’s all “grammar” (again) (link)
AZ, 2/26/06: It’s all grammar, redux (link)
So what DO we call the domain that takes in spelling, punctuation, choice of inflectional form, word choice, syntactic usage, and actual grammar? “Usage” is a bit too broad; in fact, usage dictionaries are reluctant to discuss more than a few common misspellings, since there are just too many of them. “Usage and style” takes in even more.
AZ, 4/4/06: It’s all grammar, one more time (link)
I do wish there were some short and punchy label for all the kinds of conventions of language use (as well as labels for the many different types of these conventions), so that “grammar” wouldn’t have to serve this purpose and could continue to be used by linguists for the system of regularities connecting the phonetics and semantics of a (variety of a) language. Or maybe linguists should just give up and follow Geoff Pullum and Barbara Scholz in calling this system the “correctness conditions” for a (variety of a) language. Though I worry about how “correctness” would be taken by non-linguists.
[Note: this last comment amounts to a suggestion to abandon the term grammar to PITS, who would then be free to use it any way they want, and to change the usage of linguists, who would be obliged to use some neologism; similar suggestions have been made for the technical terms passive, tense, and some others. Even if linguists were willing to shift their vocabulary, the proposal is unlikely to be a long-term success: any proposed substitute is likely to pick up the wider usage of the expression it replaces. As in the cycle of euphemisms.]
GP, 4/19/06: McClellan’s mangled sentences: where are they? (link)
AZ, 3/4/07: Foolish hobgoblins (link)
GP, 6/1/08: Public discourse about public discourse (link)
AZBlog, 8/12/09: Grammarian stereotype (link)
AZBlog, 2/13/11: And still they come (link)
AZBlog, 3/3/11: Apostrophe abuse (link)
AZBlog, 3/24/11: Grammar and the Postal Service (link)
AZBlog, 7/24/11: Disregarding context (link)
So much for history. What’s to be done?
We should probably start by asking the question: why do people think of such a diverse collection of phenomena (check out Mary Newton Bruder in “It’s all grammar, one more time”, for an extreme case) as constituting a natural category?
The short answer: they all involve aspects of language or language use that (some) people object to and so would (literally) regulate; they are domains of linguistic peeve-triggers. But otherwise there’s no common thread, and it’s a serious confusion to treat them as deeply similar. Meanwhile, there is a place for a term denoting ‘the system of regularities connecting the phonetics and semantics of a (variety of a) language’ (above). If you really have to have a term for the great grab-bag of linguistic peeve-triggers taken together, I suggest garmmra.