Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Today's Word—Grammar

Nit-Picking Pedantry Lives!

“Ancient attitudes to grammar still survive: many people are in awe of it, know little about it, tend to fear or dislike it, often find it baffling and boring if exposed to it at school, and yet a minority is fascinated by it: a field in which precise scholarship and nit-picking pedantry have coexisted for centuries.”
—“Grammar” entry in The Oxford Companion to the English Language, edited by Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press (1992)

1 comment:

  1. Grammar touches a nerve! Multiple responses emailed to the WORDman about this one. Some are:

    • "Most of my students believe the term refers to one's parents' mothers."

    • "Ah, Grammar! A field in which it is so easy to be both devotee and offender . . . ."

    Q: "As long as we're doing nit-picking pedantry, shouldn't that have been 'a minority are fascinated by it.'?"

    WORDman says: Excellent! but I don't think so. It's the same conundrum as a "couple" is/are; the Utah Jazz is/are. Depends on whether the meaning is the group/dyad or the collective/team. You could probably use either in this case, but I think the undifferentiated mass of "minority" is preferable, and thus singular.

    Is it nit-pickery? "Why does anyone care?" my students asked yesterday in a related (AP Style) context. After I stopped banging my forehead on the whiteboard, I replied, "Because it does."

    More to follow....