Friday, 29 July 2011

A mellow grammatical rant

Now of my threescore years and ten
Seventy will not come again

As a septuagenarian, I'm entitled to an occasional rant. I was once a raging grammarian, but I've come to accept that language changes, and that what grates on my ear is perfectly acceptable to younger people's. In fact, when I say "dived" or "sneaked", instead of "dove or "snuck", their ears are probably offended. And some usage that used to grate on mine doesn't grate so much any more. In moments of weakness, I may even "access" my account instead of "gaining access to" it. 

When words are used wrongly by almost everybody, the new meaning eventually becomes acceptable and finds its way into the dictionary. For example, "disinterested" means not to have an interest, e.g., personal or financial, in something, as in, "The judge must be disinterested in her case", but now, it's commonly used as a synonym for "uninterested", as in, "He seems to be disinterested in school". This new meaning is now given in the dictionary.

But some errors are not acceptable, especially in the fields of education and journalism, where we might expect to find models of correct usage of the English language. The CBC and the Globe and Mail, for example, used to pride themselves on always being correct. No longer, it seems! One reporter in the Globe and Mail doesn't seem to know the difference between "lie" and "lay", and I recently heard a CBC reporter say "I had went...."

As raging grammarians, we used to issue penalties and notify organizations who made grammatical errors. We were rightly criticized as being grammatiical snobs. In this blog, I hope that with my threescore years and ten I am now more humble. I intend merely to write a style guide based on the errors I encounter. If I make an mistake, please tell me, and if you have any questions, please ask them. You can email me at

Each entry will comment on a grammatical or stylistic "error".

Who is my audience? My family, who don't have a choice, some friends who I think may be interested, and anyone else who stumbles by chance upon the blog site. Largely, of course, like most bloggers, I am writing for my own satisfaction. What else is a retired English teacher to do? And to misquote Dostoyevski,

A man must have something to do. 

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