Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted June 10, 2021


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Musings about contentious points of grammar

A Matter of Right and Right

by Elizabeth Emerald

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

At the risk of being charged with blasphemy against The Rules of Grammar, I confess to preferring the sound of him/her in the subjective case.

I always heard it spoken thus growing up. When a caller asks to speak to "Liz," I can't bring myself to say "This is she" so I answer "This is Liz." (As penance for my sacrilege, I shall refrain from taking liberties in writing.)

Given my childhood conditioning, constructions such as "He is taller than she" sound jarring. I either play it safe (whilst soothing my ears) by making explicit the "is" (He is taller than she IS) or I say "He is taller than HER."

I was pleased to learn the latter form is defensible, on grounds of "her" being the object of the preposition "than." (Google is great at addressing these dilemmas.)

I'm with the grammarians as regards my disapproval of the current trend of using "they" in place of the stilted "one" or the sexist "he." The option I like best, such as I've seen in (just a few) books, is to alternate he/him with she/her. (S/he is fine too, but shim doesn't work for me.)

As regards punctuation rules, I employ workarounds;

it often irks me to start the second part of a compound sentence in lower case, such as one must do (as I did above) after a semicolon:

Thus, I may use a colon instead (as I did above) because capital letters are permitted after colons that introduce sentences

- though not phrases -

in which cases I offset the phrase (as I did above) with a pair of hyphens

--each of which is preceded and followed by a space--

which effect can also be legitimately accomplished (as I did above) by forgoing the spaces and using a balanced pair of long (so-called *em*) dashes.

*I was obliged to simulate the appearance of the "em" dash by concatenating a pair of hyphens; there is no "em" dash on the keyboard. Though WORD converts adjoining hyphens into an "em" dash, StoryLand's "Evil@Eddie" undoes the conversion.



I've long enjoyed the study of grammar and usage, notwithstanding the myriad frustrations of "rules" that change or never were.

Which brings to mind a joke my father told. A tourist in Washington, DC, was admonished by the grammar pedant (and Nixon speechwriter) William Safire for ending his request for directions with a preposition.

The tourist amended his question thus:

"Excuuuse, me, kindly tell me where the White House is at: D*(kHead!


 



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