Grammar pedants online

Catherine Bennett

In the Bridging the Unbridgeable project we’ve been trying to find out what people’s pet hates are. So far, we’ve done so directly by asking them in attitudes surveys, both online and face-to face, but another great source is to look at comments on language columns that deal with usage problems. I just went through all 84 comments that arrived within about 14 hours since Catherine Bennett produced her piece  “Modern Tribes: the grammar pedant” in The Guardian Online.

In the column, Catherine mentions eight what we call usage problems: less/fewer, historic/historical, disinterested/uninterested, refute/reply, who/whom, comprise of, split infinitives and the greengrocer’s apostrophe (like the plural potato’s).

The Guardian

None of these are new: we are particularly interested in finding out about new usage problems. So what about the 84 comments? Not many new ones here either: of/have, off of, verbs made from nouns (dooring, versing), initial And, obsess as a verb (?), confusables like loth/loathe and lose/loose, between you and I/me, gunna, tire/tyre, should of wentmore than he/him, between/among, amongST, preposition stranding, hopefully, team as a plural noun, invite as a noun, hung/hanged … .

There were some though which  I hadn’t come across before: the literal meaning of working in “How’s your working day?”; pre-book; gift for give; get/have a kid; me so happy, as used by foreigners; born and bred/raised; at either end of the room. Are any of these really new problems or merely writers’ pet peeves?

There were a couple of things in the list of comments I was struck by: there seemed a lot of Australians reacting to the column; people are worried by the autocorrect function ruining grammar; the prescriptive jokes (like the one about Sir John Ive having to change his name to Sir John I’ve); and that Catherine Bennett was taken to task for not spelling wouldst correctly. And of course the split infinitive was believed to have originated in the eighteenth century. My favourite comment was: “I tell greengrocers/take-away shops if their signage is misspelt/mispelled? Advocadoes’!”

(Thanks once again for the link, Joan!)

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