Last month The Independent published a story featuring an email etiquette rule by Jonathan Tisch, a hotel magnate. According to Mr. Tisch, the one word you should never use to start emails is “I”. Referring to mentors, teachers and your own education is a common strategy when formulating prescriptive rules, and Mr. Tisch is no exception. He explains that this particular piece of advice was handed down to him by his former boss and mentor who claimed that “whenever you’re writing a letter — and now it applies to emails today — never start a paragraph with the word ‘I,’ because that immediately sends a message that you are more important than the person that you’re communicating with.” What was interesting about this piece is the commentary that followed under the article itself and in social media. The like-minded readers were among the minority and most commenters expressed their disagreement (“I don’t know about you but I know that I enjoy using a nice perpendicular pronoun every now and again.”) or lack of interest (“Useless article”) in the prescriptive advice.
In the survey Ingrid Tieken and myself conducted in 2015, we asked our respondents (some of them, we presume, including our readers) about their experiences in publicly
voicing complaints about language. Most of the them replied that the complaints they voiced were not complaints on “wrong” usage, but on the pedants’ complaints themselves.
Although there is no doubt about continuing needs for usage advice, the tables are steadily turning with the backlash against prescriptive advice on the rise.