Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breaking (Some of) the Rules

I don’t know if any of the following count as “wacky,” or if even some of them are technically grammar rules so much as styles of writing. It wasn’t until I arrived at college, specifically my undergraduate at Utah Valley University, that I learned that many of the grammar rules I knew were based on the idea that English was a “vulgar” language, and to clean it up several stuff shirts decided to introduce Latin grammar rules.

Thus, I avoided ending a sentence in a preposition like the plague. It was a while before I learned that it is okay to end a sentence in a preposition to avoid an awkward sounding sentence, and longer still before I ran across the brilliant quote in that regard that Churchill may or may not have said (my favorite version of such being “This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”). I suppose the opposite of this is starting sentences with a conjunction, and there’s always the fun split infinitive that makes traditional grammarians weep.

Unfortunately, although I know most of these rules are utter nonsense, I still struggle to break some of them, even if the occasion calls for it. I cannot bring myself to start a sentence with “and,” and I twitch whenever I try “to boldly go” anywhere except Revision Town. I don’t even recall when or how or from whom I learned these rules, but the lessons are deeply ingrained.

Still, it isn’t all bad news. I have made progress on some of them. I slowly started using the first person in academic papers around the middle of my undergraduate career. My father taught me that rule, so it’s potentially even more foundational than the rest. However, I had a progressive teacher for English 3090, Academic Writing, who thought the idea of pretending that there wasn’t an actual person writing a paper and that it was somehow “objective” and free of bias was patently absurd, and he pointed out that many of the authors of the essays we read for the class didn’t hesitate to use the first person. There was some trepidation, but most of the class came around.

Oddly enough, I actually wish I had been taught more grammar rules. I avoided using semicolons and colons frequently simply because I had no clue how to use them. There are many grammatical terms for which I couldn’t possible suggest meanings. Despite the fact that most grammar rules turn out to be wrong, especially at the secondary education level, I’d rather have a list of “wacky” rules to use as a foundation for learning the correct ones. I tend to remember lessons better when they’re taught to correct an errant notion (usually because anger over being lied to and wrong is involved, but still). At least I would have a lexicon to work with rather than luck and instinct resulting in mostly correct writing as it did with my comma placement. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working in the Writing Center because I’m forced to research terms to use to explain why sentences look “wonky.”


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