A History of Grammar – or Not?

Editing and Writing

A History of Grammar – or Not?

The Wall Street Journal has a great article about why and how grammar was invented, and what its history has been: Grammar’s Dirty Little Secret. It sounds quite serious at first and then…you keep reading. And start noticing something. For example:

[J]ust think back to all the school children who got their knuckles rapped for split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions, only to find when they grew up that those were no longer grammar errors. So, they developed early-onset arthritis for nothing.

Perhaps not quite the serious article we were expecting? And it gets better:

Many rules have been created out of political expediency, as with the use of the article “an” before nouns beginning with “h,” like “historic,” which was the result of the Great Cockney Appeasement of 1866… Also, to this day, The Association for Proper Periods (APP) is one of the biggest lobbyist groups in Washington and has successfully arranged to have no sentence in any congressional bill exceed seven words. This law tripled period use overnight.

By the end of this, I was laughing my head off. The funny thing is that sometimes what is considered proper grammar was developed for political reasons. (Don’t get me started on the person who deliberately decided that “he” should represent all humans, when before that the normal usage was a generic, nongendered “they.”)

The WSJ article also  does rather remind me of some of the intense discussions students got into about the placement of commas, when I was studying copyediting. Yes, communicating clearly is serious business, and you need to make sure everyone can understand what you’re writing. But…you have to laugh too, sometimes. There is such a thing as taking every teeny tiny comma a bit too seriously.