How many usage problems are there, Emily?

David Crystal (1995)

Yesterday, I commented on what looks like the omnipresence of the split infinitive in usage guides and other books that provide usage advice: Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style (2014) and Cherry Chappell’s How to Write Better Letters (2006). The split infinitive is also in David Crystal’s Grammatical Top Ten, usage items that are most criticised.

Not so long ago, while I was a visiting fellow at Clare Hall, in Cambridge, I held a survey to find out how the ten items are evaluated in relation to each other, and this morning I found that the questionnaire is still available online. So if you’re interested, fill in the acceptability_test and please send it to me by email as an attachment (don’t worry about the deadline in the document: this will offer a neat opportunity of comparing my results with those I got then).

The questionnaire also asks for other usage problems than the ten listed by Crystal. This is something we are most interested in for our research in the Bridging the Unbridgeable project. So please tell us what you think are new usage problems (in a comment to this blog post or otherwise).

But really this blog post is about something else: it is to thank Emily Maas for her work for the HUGE project in general, and in particular, during the last few weeks, for her careful tabulation of the usage problems in Fowler (1926). I just noticed that for the first four letters of the alphabet alone, she counted well over 1500 items. Wow, what a job, Emily: thanks for making a headstart on it. And for being part of the project for the past six months! All the best with your studies at Leiden.

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