Grammar police on the highway

A PartiallyClips from 2014, which somehow slipped my notice:

The officer in the cartoon — I’ll call him Andy, after E.B. White — objects to (1) broke as the PSP of break and to (2) What did you do that for? as (incorrectly) ending a sentence with a preposition, and he’s about to object to the driver’s use of (3) hyperbolic or intensive literally. Meanwhile, Andy’s partner Bill Strunk (note: the Strunk of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style was called Will) is busy doing usage-retributive damage to the car. Not, I think, the world’s greatest usage assholes, but arguably in the asshole pantheon.

(1) PSP broke. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and all that. A long-attested widespread usage, one that obeys the PSP = PST generalization that applies to all regular verbs and many irregular ones in standard English and is extended to many of the rest in non-standard varieties. I can’t imagine why anyone would get all outraged by such a trivial matter.

(2) NSP. No Stranded Prepositions. The prohibition is simply absurd, even though it was fanatically championed by John Dryden. In this particular case, involving idiomatic what … for ‘why’, NSP is not just unjustifed, but actually wrong: the fronted alternative For what did you do that? is at best exceedingly peculiar, if not simply ungrammatical. (I suspect that the cartoonists understood that; their attitude towards the grammar cops is not a sympathetic one.)

(3) Hyperbolic or intensive literally. For whatever historical reasons, a favorite of peevers, who seem to be willfully incapable of using context and expectations to distinguish hyberbolic occurrences (by far the majority) from literal ones.

Meanwhile, we should be concerned about Andy and Bill, guns on hips, roaming the roads, spreading usage fictions and damaging personal property.

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