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Friday, September 28, 2012

Which Language and Grammar Rules to Flout - Room for Debate - NYTimes.com

This New York Times feature presents an an excellent multi-part "debate" on following language and grammar rules--or not--and the reasons for doing so--or not. 

In it, two respected writers describe and respond to their differing points of view. One authority is Bryan A. Garner, founder of LawProse, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, and the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. The other is Robert Lane Greene, an international correspondent for The Economist and is the author of You Are What You Speak.

I'm not familiar with Greene, but I have heard Garner speak and consider his Modern American Usage to be the best contemporary companion to past, aging references by Fowler and Follett. I have mostly agreed with Garner's advice before reading this discussion--and I still do. He's also an authority on using plain language in legal, business, academic and most other forms of writing.

The introduction to their discussion says:
Here’s a chilling thought: What if our English teachers were wrong? Maybe not about everything, but about a few memorable lessons. So many millions of writers have needlessly contorted their prose to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. So many well-intentioned editors have fought to change “a historic” to “an historic.” If it turns out that the guidelines we cling to (“to which we cling”?) are nonsense, maybe the texters have the right idea when they throw out the old rules and start fresh.
But if you aren’t ready to give up — if the “flaunt” in that headline raised your blood pressure — then how can you tell the difference between a sound rule of English and a made-up shibboleth? Where do good rules come from, and how do bad ones catch on?
Room for Debate invited two authors to answer and argue: the journalist Robert Lane Greene and the usage expert Bryan A. Garner. (Their responses, conforming to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, may not represent their positions on style issues like hyphenation and serial commas.)
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This article is featured today (Aug. 28) in Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.


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