Archive for the ‘Advice literature’ Category

Iatrogenic grammar sickness

August 28, 2016

From 8/26 on Lithub, “How a Self-Published Writer of Gay Erotica Beat Sci-Fi’s Sad Puppies at their Own Game”, by M. Sophia Newman:

When I was a little kid, my mother would come into the bedroom I shared with two of my sisters each night and read us a book before we slept. Inevitably, a minor fight would erupt over whose bed beside which Mom would sit

Another WTF moment, to go along with the moment of failed anaphoric reference in my posting of the 26th. In this case, it’s hard to believe that the boldfaced relative clause comes from a native speaker of English, but it was, by a professional writer, in fact — and that’s surely the source of the problem. (In contrast, the source of the problem in the anaphoric reference example is almost surely that its writer was unpracticed at the task.)

In brief, Newman would never have committed the bizarre strangulated relative clause above — let’s call it Hern — if she hadn’t been subjected to rotten advice about how to write and taken it to heart: she was told that stranded P (“ending with a preposition”) is a grammatical disorder, which can, fortunately, be treated by a simple procedure, fronting the P. That is, the putatively malformed relative clauses

which/that/∅ Mom would sit beside

(in the Strand family) should be remedied by relocating the P beside (to the front of the relative clause) and using the (prosthetic) relative pronoun which to support it. The result of this procedure  is the appalling Hern, actually a bit of sick grammar caused by ill-advised therapy: iatrogenic grammar sickness.


Object whom

March 1, 2011

From a Gail Collins op-ed piece in the NYT (2/24/11, p. A27), “Revenge of the Pomeranians”:

Also, why is the federal government in danger of shutting down? Whom can I blame for this? Does it have anything to do with what’s going on in Wisconsin? Did Congress pass a budget last year at all? Why not?

The whom caught my eye. It’s prescriptively “correct”, since the lexeme WHO is serving here in an object function (in this case, it’s the direct object of blame), but still it was jarring to me, especially in the context of Collins’s breezy and informal style. (Not that Collins was necessarily responsible for the whom in this column; it might have been introduced by an editor.)


And still they come

February 13, 2011

There seems to be no end to books proposing to fix people’s lives by fixing their “grammar” (in that all-embracing sense of grammar — my slogan is It’s All Grammar — that I frequently complain about), usually incorporating any number of factual errors and fallacious assumptions about language and language use and displaying at best regrettable, at worst harmful, shameful attitudes about linguistic variation and social life. I collect these things, usually trying to get them used, so as not to give financial suppport to the authors or their publishers.

Latest to heave into my view (hat tip from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky) is Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better, by Joanne Kimes with Gary Robert Muschla, as discussed in a guest blog on Sociological Images by Josef Fruehwald, a grad student in linguistics at Penn who blogs on language variation and language attitudes (among other things) here.