I am a rule follower. I also like to know what the rules are, so I can break them. Stealthily, of course. But rules are what keeps society from going to hell in a handbasket, right? Traffic rules keep cars from running into each other or over pedestrians *Rome coff* . Please wash your hands before cooking my dinner, Mr. Guano Salesman. No hitting below the belt. No cutting in line.
Which is why I was particularly torqued off when I came across a blog post–in my WordPress reader no less–disdaining “Grammar purity” as a Ponzi scheme.* The essence of the argument is that “we” (English speaking-society) came up with the rules…. (ergo “we” can break them?) Dictionaries are arbiters of such rules, but looking in dictionaries shows that there is flexibility (ergo they aren’t really rules). Manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook are “style guidelines, not grammar rules.”
These “rules” have shown impressive staying power. From cocktail parties to kitchen tables, these seemingly fascinating bits of grammar trivia have been repeated over and over, in some cases for centuries.
Too bad they’re not true.
Standard Written English is not just a Style Guide
The subconsciousness is a strange device. It’s our human CPU, running subroutines in the background. When we shut down for the night, it keeps running, energetically trying to solve all the world’s problems. How the universe was formed. Whether there is life on other planets. What x equals. Why cruelty exists.
A Thousand Suns… Some Not So Splendid
Last Thursday, I sat mesmerized during San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This play, based on the best-selling novel by Khalid Hosseini, is the story of women enduring the Afghanistan Civil Wars and the rise of the Taliban in the late 1990s. I choose the word enduring carefully because it is the core verb that women in the play use to express what must be done. Afghanistan under the severity of the Taliban interpretation of Sharia Law was as perilous a place for women as any; endure is what they must.
Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam….There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school . . . Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure . . . It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.
–Nana in A Thousand Splendid Suns
I don’t know if Hosseini read his Faulkner.
–Last line of The Sound and the Fury
Since I am such a lover of sport, I have been surprised this week by the lack of sensitivity displayed in multiple sport stories. No, I am not talking about the political correctness type of sensitivity but the fine tuning required for common sense and intelligence.
Les spectateurs de bicyclette sont stupides
Consider, for example, the Tour de France. I have one friend who is an avid follower of the event, who shrugs at basketball and disdains football, but whose eyes lit up last week describing the day when the riders went over massive amounts of cobblestones. Perusing last night’s updates with my friend in mind, imagine my surprise at googling “Tour de France” and seeing that the top suggested pairing included “tear gas.”
I shouldn’t be writing a blog today. I’m having one of those weeks. I thought I was done with being overbooked, since I sledgehammered off the corporate shackles from my old middle-management life, but that was a silly idea. As human beings, we can never eliminate stress from our lives entirely. Besides, it’s good for me. If I can make it through the week.
When I first started teaching, the temporary, part-time gig was enticing. A handful of classes, a manageable load of students, and material that I could master. Juggling a schedule with multiple classes has turned out to be less easy. Classes get cancelled; students don’t show up and then too many show up; the door is locked. Stuff happens, like in any job. Continue reading “Drinking from the Firehose…”
My mom would often quote: How do I know what I mean until I see what I say? when we talked about writing around the dinner table. Which we did sometimes, oddball family that we were. That expression immediately came to mind when the lovely Mr. Fandango suggested a blog One-Word Challenge using the word “mean.” I take heart that I did not think about someone performing acts of cruelty, although I cringe slightly that I also didn’t consider anything statistical which, after all, is right up on my blog masthead.
But that’s writing, isn’t it? We don’t really control it.
It turns out E. M. Forster is the source of the original saying, and that he was misquoted. He said “think,” not “mean,” which is a curious distinction.
How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
–E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel