Who decides who makes all the English grammar rules and when to change them? I scoured the Internet for any whiff of a National Grammar Rules Agency or a Government Department of Grammar, or a National Language Regulatory Commission, or Federal Grammar Board.
Not one hit!
So who decides? Does someone send out a survey every ten years? Do they ask questions like, “How many members of your household are grammatically correct?” or “What words don’t you use any more?” or “How many times in the past year have you used adoxography or quidnunc?” (Yes, they’re real, look them up).
If they sent out a survey I didn’t get one.
I wish I knew who “they” were. We have the dictionary people. Then there’s the linguistics folks whose job is to dabble in language stuff all day. Is they them? Then there’s the Language Arts gurus in our universities. Or maybe it’s those lexicographers or those soft-spoken etymologists who play with our words and slip them in and out of our dictionaries and word warehouses. Are they they? Or how about the textbook people? They have to keep writing new editions of their books to sell school boards on the notion that the current version is better than the one the school boards bought several years ago. Why? Because the rules keep changing?
No. The rules don’t change. My favorite grammar book is one my grandfather used called, “Grammar Rhetoric and Composition” by Richard D. Mallery, The New Home Library, ©1944 by Garden City Publishing Co. Did you catch that copyright date? The book says adjectives are still descriptive, limiting or proper. It calls comparison of adjectives positive, comparative or superlative. The definition of a complex sentence is (and was in his day) a sentence consisting of one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. Comma splices occurred then just like they do today. Writers in my grandfather’s day even dangled a few participles once in a while. The book cautions students not to end a sentence with a preposition or start a sentence with the conjunctions And or But.
But now (I know. I broke the rule–not only with a sentence but a whole paragraph. So, report me. Who will you report me to? If I follow you, maybe I’ll find out who they are.) some language maven bloggers and some other wordsmiths are telling us that they are casting out some of the good ol’ standby rules. Rules they say are no longer regarded as useful or necessary. They have identified seven rules we don’t have to follow anymore. The English language has a bazillion rules. How did they come up with these seven? And why seven and not ten or 17 or 27? Who do they think they are? I don’t know who they are. But I know what they are—arbitrary and capricious. That’s what they are.
Here are the seven rules they picked to march to the gallows:
1. Never split an infinitive. Who would want to ever do that anyway?
2. Active voice verbs are preferable to passive voice verbs. I will never part with this one. I have encrypted this rule in my memory’s hard drive. Passive voice will forever be stricken from my writing.
3. Never start a sentence with And or But. Okay. I can part with that one.
4. Never start a sentence with “There is” or “There are.” Sorry, whoever they is, This one sticks like glue. There is nothing more confusing to a reader than having to scour through a sentence trying to figure out what the writer is saying when he or she begins his or her sentence with “There is” or “There are.” Is there? Of course not. This one stays.
5. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Now that’s a rule they can do without.
6. Always use “more than” instead of “over” with numbers. Okay. Whatever. Math’s not my gig.
7. Data is plural, so the verb must always be plural. So data is what data does? Or data are what data do? If they say so.
So I guess they are telling us it’s okay now to sometimes split infinitives and start sentences with And or But, and end our sentences with prepositions and so on. I wonder if they have real jobs. Or did they just get up one day and go to the office and agree to throw a bunch of our rules out the window?
I can’t find anyone who really knows for sure. However, some pretty smart folks claim these rule changes are for real, such as Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, 3rd edition; the Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition, and the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual.
But who told them?
Does anyone know who they really are? We’d better be on our guard. First they start by quietly and without much media coverage crucify a few seemingly insignificant rules. A few language buffs have already taken notice. But then what if they start messing with our pronunciation, or our syntax? Pretty soon they might infiltrate our speech and maybe even our written language.
We’ve got to find out who they are and stop this subtle sabotage now!