English place names: where did the missing syllables go?

barbtaub asked why some English place names have “whole syllables missing? How could Worcester only have two syllables? Where do the L and the W go when you say Alnwick out loud?

Well, I’m here to enlighten. The L and W go out for a pint, and after that, y’know, you just can’t count on them so it’s better to pronounce the word as if they’d never been there at all.

Now the R, C, and E—that’s a whole ‘nother story. They’re tea drinkers, and they’d come back if they were invited, but no one thought to so there they sit, with their cooling cups of tea, waiting for someone to remember them. It’s all very sad.

Why tea instead of beer? If they’d dropped out of Cornwall, I’d guess they were Methodists—Cornwall is historically Methodist country and the Methodists are serious teetotalers—but since we’re dealing with Worcester I won’t risk a guess. It just is that way. Some people want a pint, others want a cuppa.

Camel Estuary. Padstow. North Cornwall.

Irrelevant photo: the Camel Estuary.

What I can tell you is that the letters in English place names are unreliable. I expect that’s a cultural inheritance from French. You know, 1066, the Norman invasion, all that French influence pouring into what was until then a Germanic language. Whether you could count on the spelling of Old English to be even vaguely sensible I don’t know, but I do know that French is wasteful with its letters, not just in place names but in everything. It tosses in handfuls it has no intention of pronouncing as if to say, “See how rich we are? We have so many of these we can afford to throw them away.”

When you treat letters like that, why should they stick around? They’re not needed, so of course they seek solace in the pub or the café. Who wouldn’t?

Now that Britain’s in an age of artificially induced austerity, you’d think the government would want to claw some of those wasted letters back. I mean, at one point, the government considered selling off nationally owned woodlands, which were being used and weren’t in the pub, and it only backed off because the proposal caused an uproar. I’ve read speculation that they’ll sell off property owned by the National Health Service soon. You know—balance the books in the short term, even if it impoverishes the nation in the long term. What the hell: by the time the problems show up, some other government will be in power, so who cares? It’ll all be their problem to solve.

What I’m thinking is that they could easily sell off those vowels and consonants that no one’s using. A prime example lies up the coast from us: Woolfardisworthy is pronounced Woolsery, and the spelling’s so out of whack with the pronunciation that the road sign (in a rare moment of linguistic sanity) gives both spellings. So we could not only save on letters, we could have a smaller road sign.

Not all place names present as clear a case. The town of Launceston has three pronunciations: LANson (that’s the Cornish version), LAWNston (I’m not sure who pronounces it that way), and LAWNson (I think of this as the compromise version and it’s the one I use; with my accent, LANson sounds too strange). The only pronunciation that’s wrong is lawnCESSton—the one that uses all the letters. With three pronunciations, it’s not clear what letters we should sell off, but that doesn’t have to stop the program. Sacrifices must be made.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read that over centuries the sandpaper of time tend to wear away at difficult pronunciations. I’m still waiting for it to smooth out the pronunciation of sixth. Try saying that quickly three times. Still, the theory would explain the bizarre spellings of place names. English spelling was codified when the pronunciation was still changing rapidly, and it reflects (or so they say) pronunciations we no longer use. So place names were frozen even as the residents went about the natural business of simplifying the pronunciation, leaving us to wonder, What were they thinking?

Aren’t you glad you asked, barbtaub?

British and American English: The Easter update

The Methodist Church in our village has its annual egg roll at this time of year, and you need to understand that this is an event, not something to eat. If it was something to eat and if we were speaking British, it would be an egg on a roll. If we were speaking American, it would be a deep-fried appetizer from a Chinese restaurant—what the British call a spring roll. But no, this is more along the lines of the Gloucester Cheese Roll, only without insanely steep hill and the ambulances. And the cheese. It’s a bunch of kids rolling eggs down a hill. The one who reaches the bottom first (or at all, since chickens never designed their eggs for racing) wins. I’m not sure what the prize is. A deep-fried appetizer from a Chinese restaurant? An egg sandwich? A chocolate bunny?

I’ve never gone to the event, but I was specifically invited the year A. was a judge. Unfortunately, I got sick and stayed home, and that left me free to imagine it any way I want. What I imagine is that Easter in Britain is about rolling an egg down a hill.

Irrelevant photo: A tiny waterfall. Looking at this, you can almost believe the legends of fairies and little people.

Irrelevant photo: A tiny waterfall. Looking at this, you can almost believe the legends of fairies and little people.

In its more commercial form, Easter’s also about chocolate eggs, and these are massive things—not American football size, but moving in that direction. All your childhood dreams of greed, shaped like an egg. The Guardian (that’s a newspaper, in case you need to know) likes to compare the prices and qualities of different brands of food, and this year’s chocolate Easter egg comparison shows that some of them get into silly money territory. Hotel Chocolat? £27, and it’s filled with smaller chocolates.Harrods? £29.95. The paper recommends that one for Russian oligarchs, who aren’t known for their sense of humor so let’s assume the paper’s not making fun of them, and for safety’s sake neither am I. Marks & Spencer has one for £40 and that kind of money buys it its very own link. (FYI: Links here are not for sale unless I’m making fun of something at the other end, in which case no one’s likely to offer me money. I am so pure I’m almost invisible.) M & S’s egg is a “giant golden lattice egg with a delicate show-stopping small egg perched inside. . . . Because they’re so special, we’ve only made 7,500 eggs, each one numbered on the presentation box for an extra touch of luxury.” And then you eat the sucker and it’s gone, leaving you with nothing but that numbered presentation box and a bunch of adjectives. Spend enough money and you get a lot of adjectives. The original copy had even more, but I’m still an editor at heart and just had to cut some. And in case you’re worried, the gold is edible. Which is another adjective but an important one The Guardian doesn’t specifically recommend this particular egg for Russian oligarchs. I’m not sure why.

Back in the land of the sane, you can find chocolate eggs in supermarkets for £5, or for £2.99.

And we still haven’t gotten to chocolate bunnies. I’ve seen these in two sizes: nestle in your palm size and coffee mug size. I brought a small one home from a grocery shopping trip and Wild Thing reports that they’re good.

In the U.S., you can’t make your way through a store in the weeks before Easter without tripping over egg-dying kits. Or—well, I assume that’s still true. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around, never mind at Easter. In Britain, though, making Easter eggs from actual eggs don’t seem to be a big thing.

And this seems to be a leap, but it’s not: When I first started to write fiction, I wrote a transparently autobiographical story about my Jewish atheist family that included the sentence, “We celebrated Easter.”

My father read it.

“We never celebrated Easter,” he said.

I think that, in his quiet way he was scandalized. He was also, in my opinion, wrong.

It’s true that we didn’t celebrate it in a religious way. But we dyed eggs every year, and found people to give them to (who may have wondered about them but were kind enough not to ask). My brother and I woke up to Easter baskets—jellybeans, a chocolate rabbit (in my memory, they were huge), a panorama egg with a sugar shell and little cut-out figures inside, small chocolate eggs in foil wrappers, all of them nestled in fake grass.

Give a kid candy like that and she’ll think it’s a celebration. Add dyed eggs and, yes, you have a holiday. Sorry, Dad.

It didn’t turn me religious, but it did leave me with a fondness for chocolate bunnies, even though I don’t eat them anymore. I worked in a candy factory when I was in my twenties, and it left me immune to candy’s lures. The one exception is good, and very plain, dark chocolate. But I do like to see chocolate bunnies in their gorgeous foil wrappers.

I can even get sentimental about jellybeans. They never did taste good, but I ate them anyway. Like Everest, they were there. How could I not?

So if you celebrate Easter, happy Easter. And if you don’t, I can still recommend the chocolate bunnies. They don’t care what you believe.

Comparative swearing: U.S. vs. U.K.

In a comment on “More about manners in the U.S. and U.K.,” Karen at Fill Your Own Glass [sorry, everybody; that’s almost the end of the links] wrote, “My impressions have been created solely by movies, but I have believed that people in the U.K. are less inhibited when it comes to cursing and talking about sex.” (She went on to say that it was an insightful post, but I wouldn’t want you to think I’m the kind of person who’d mention that.)

I haven’t a clue whether her impressions are true. What fascinates me about the comment is how you’d measure either.

late winter 002

Near Minions

Let’s say we want to compare how inhibited or uninhibited people are in talking about sex. I mean, I want to be scientific here. How do we compare passing references to serious what-I-did, what-I-didn’t-do, and how-I-feel-about-it conversations? Do we measure in frequency, in length, or in depth?

No puns, please. We’re being scientific here, so settle down in the back row.

If we’re talking about a serious cross-cultural comparison of swearing, how do we balance frequency against intensity? How do we measure the weight do various swear words carry?

People I know here (and it’s entirely possible that my friends swear more than the average Brit) say “bloody” fairly often. How often? Oh, you know, often enough. (You can see why I never became a scientist, right?) But how intense a swear word is bloody? I’d always heard that it’s religious—actually, sacrilegious—in origin and assumed that it packed quite a punch. But a Wikipedia entry raises several milder and way less interesting possibilities. My Dictionary of British Slang and Colloquial Expressions calls it simply “an intensifier,” which makes it sound mild to the point of insipidity. Of course, I once heard a linguist talk dispassionately about the way Americans use the word fucking as an insertion. In fact, he called it “the fucking insertion,” which both illustrated how it was used and cracked me up for weeks afterwards. From this I gather that linguists, like all scientists, whatever their passions, prefer to present a dispassionate surface.

I’ve heard bloody said often enough that it’s made itself a home in my head, and it’s trying to push its way into my speech. It wants to be said, and I want not to say it. Not because I don’t swear—I do, and without being immodest here, I do it well—but because I don’t have a sense of its proportion, its weight, its impact. I don’t like to throw things until I can gauge their impact.

Besides, with my accent it’ll sound very odd.

So there you are, folks. Comparative swearing. I look forward to hearing what you have to say on the subject.

British and American English: Talking about tea

Tea isn’t just a drink here, it’s a meal and a marker of class. (You’ll find lots of those if you know how to look.) If you’re working class, tea is the evening meal and dinner is lunch. If you’re upper class, the evening meal is supper. Are you still with me? You won’t be for long, because A. adds, “But we all say supper now.”

Who’s “we”?

Sorry, you’re on your own there.

Screamingly irrelevant photo. He doesn’t care what the meal’s called.

And in case this isn’t confusing enough, I’ve read that all this turns into its opposite in other parts of the country, so you have to know where someone’s from to know what they’re eating. Or drinking. Or talking about.

Wild thing was on the phone with H. and invited her to stop by for tea after something they were doing together. H. told us later that she hung up the phone and thought, I wonder what I just got invited for? Because Wild Thing and I don’t play by the same rules as anyone else does, so who knows what we mean when we say “tea”?

We sure as hell don’t.

Everyone seems to agree that afternoon tea (as opposed to just plain old tea) is afternoon tea—you know: a cup of tea and a little something—but if you want that little something in the morning it’s either morning coffee or elevensies. Morning tea? Sorry, there is no such thing. It’s morning coffee. And if you don’t drink coffee? No problem. You can get tea. But it’s still not called tea.

Minims and crotchets: surviving British musical notation

“It’s simple,” G. tells me. “There are two quavers in a crotchet, two crotchets in a minim, and two minims in a semibreve.”

She’s not explaining the Harry Potter universe but musical notation in British as opposed to American. I give her a panicky nod, but I don’t fool her, because she stops before she gets to the full breve—which has a long E so that it sounds like breathe, in case you need to know that. And crotchet is pronounced like crotchety, with a T you can actually hear, not like that thing you do with a length of yarn and a crochet hook.

I explain to G. that I learned to call them whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and so on, and she seems to believe that if I learn to translate those into the terms she knows we’ll be able to discuss time—that’s time as in music, not as in clocks. But because the eyelids of my mind fluttered when she said “It’s simple” and shut completely when she got to the quavers, my end of the conversation is mostly hand signals. I’m trying to show her the written notes, for some reason, with my fingers indicating whether the notes have stems and whether they’re filled in or hollow in the center.

Surprisingly relevant photo of a courgette. Or a zucchini is you prefer. Photo by Mmm Daffodils, on Wikimedia.

A courgette. Or a zucchini is you prefer. Photo by Mmm Daffodils, on Wikimedia.

G. and I know each other from the singers night at a local pub. Her head harbors a fine range of folk songs, from the sweet to the raunchy, with several stops in between, and she understands both time and notation, although she can’t necessarily communicate either of them to me. In spite of that, we’ve worked out a couple of songs that we sing together, and she tolerates my musical ignorance—a gift I admire even more than her ability to harmonize spontaneously. We’ve been working on a new song, Les Barker’s “Non, No Courgettes,” which is a mash-up of French and English set to the tune of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

A courgette, in case you need to know this, is a British zucchini.

Somewhere in the midst of our run-through, I’ve fallen foul of a hemidemisemiquaver. Or something very much like one. There is such a thing. Really there is, although probably not in “No Courgettes.” I can’t say for sure because I wouldn’t recognize one if it snapped my finger off and added salt. All I know is that they’re very short, but then so are piranhas.

So am I, if that’s at all relevant.

I’m not completely uneducated about music. I took piano lessons as a kid, and I’m sure you could have found a more resolutely untalented student somewhere but you’d have had to look hard. The lessons were about either classical music or some damned silly song about my pretty dolly, and I wasn’t interested in either of them. I don’t remember how long I took lessons for. It seemed like forever, and my teacher must have felt the same way, but given how little I know it could have been no more than two months. I came out of it almost able to read music. I can follow the treble clef if the notes don’t go too far above the stave and the time signature doesn’t get complicated and there aren’t more than one or two flats or sharps. Forget about the bass clef—I can’t read that at all. To translate that, if we were talking about words, I could read the vowels but not the consonants. It’s ever so handy.

No one, in all the time I took piano lessons, ever mentioned a minim, a crotchet, or a quaver.

G. lets the abstract discussion slide—this is both wise and merciful—and we tackle the song again, both of us tapping time on the coffee table. In my head, the words run, “Non (two three), no courgettes (two three four)….”

She manages not to pack up her guitar and leave. It helps that one of the cats has crawled into the case and gone to sleep.

British and American English: The Accent

Two words spoken in an American accent reliably crack up the British: water and butter. It has to do with the difference between English R and the American R, which as far as I can figure out is this: Americans have one and the English have a sort noticeable absence—something you might write as an H, or an apostrophe. WAWtah, as opposed to WAWterrrr.

WAWterrr. Photo by AdriannaNicole

WAWterrr. Photo by AdriannaNicole

I’ve spelled that first syllable the same way but no way does it sound the same. No matter how much I mess around with the spelling, though, I can’t come up with the difference. Put it this way: The English first syllable is well behaved and sits in its chair with a perfectly straight back. The American one slouches and puts its feet on the coffee table.

That may not help. I do understand that.

Okay, I’m writing about English pronunciation as if the English had one single accent. They don’t, but let’s not get into that here. I’m oversimplifying, the same way I’m oversimplifying the American accent, because if I don’t I’ll never write this. I’ll lose myself in complications and sub-points and convolutions so badly that I’ll shut down the computer, go back to bed, and pull the covers over my head. Pretty soon I’ll be joined by two cats and we’ll spend the day there.

They’ll think it’s a day well spent.

Any number of British friends will, in the middle of a conversation involving food or drink, lose all restraint and repeat after us, “BUTTerrrr,” or “WAWterrrr.” They can’t help themselves. It just breaks loose. Even if it was going to fly around the room and break the dishes, they couldn’t keep it in. Sometimes they don’t even wait for us to say it first. I’d love to criticize, but if Wild Thing and I are in the car when the weather comes on and the winds are moderate, we’ll repeat “MAWderit” and laugh as if it was the first time we’d done it. Some jokes just don’t get old.

We’re lucky, though. We have the accent that people think is cool because they’ve grown up watching Hollywood movies. Well, we sort of have it. We have versions of it, with regional flavorings that, from this distance, most people don’t hear. So we don’t get the disapproval that goes with having accents people look down on, or are afraid of. A wave of let’s-all-worry-about-immigrantion is breaking over the country just now, and our accents mark us all. Wild Thing’s and mine get us sorted in the Immigrants We Accept pile. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but not as uncomfortable as being in the Immigrants We Don’t Accept pile. Still, it’s odd when people react to your accent, even favorably. It’s a bit like having people react to your nose. You’ve been walking around with the thing all your life. You’ve forgotten it’s there and are thinking about something else, but people want to talk to you about it. Over and over.

I’m in the supermarket and the woman at the checkout says, “I love your accent.”

What am I supposed to say? It’s my accent. I’m not responsible for it. When I was a kid, if I’d known I could choose I would have chosen a different variation on the New York accent. Now it’s too late. The glue that holds it in place set long ago.

So I say thanks, just as if she’d said she liked my sweater. Which she’d have called a jumper.

Further Adventures in British English: The Letter U

The British love the letter U. They use it at every possible opportunity (neighbour, colour, flavour, savoury), and it drives some of my friends insane that Americans don’t. It’s one of those things: If you let it get to you, it will. Gleefully. If I have to write something in British, I assign myself a handful of U’s and I don’t stop writing until I’ve used them all. When I write in American, I now see tiny gaps in neighbor and color where the U isn’t: colo’r; neighbo’r.

He's been here before, but I can now offer some advice: Make your your spell check is set to the right language.

He’s been here before, but I can now offer some advice: Make your your spellcheck is set to the right language.

And no matter which country I’m writing for, my spell check is set to the other. To my embarrassment, it snuck a U into neighbor a while back, and I posted it on the blog, which T. (copy editor that she is, down to the bone) pointed out diplomatically. I felt like the carrier of an, admittedly mild, disease—U-itis. I don’t have the bug myself, but I did spread it.

Mrs. Baggit Struggles to Keep Britain Tidy

The first time Wild Thing and I visited the U.K., Maggie Thatcher was the prime minister and whatever ministry was in charge of roadsides had planted them with metal signs saying, “Mrs. Baggit Says, ‘Keep Britain Tidy.’”

That bit of brilliant public relations was finished off with a picture of a tied-off bag with a face—Mrs. Baggit’s, presumably, happily stuffed with garbage. It was impossible not to connect her image with Mrs. Thatcher’s, and some small part of my brain continues to insist, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Thatcher’s real name was Maggie Baggit.

Irrelevant Photo: Rose Behind Bars, by Ida Swearingen

irrelevant Photo: Rose Behind Bars, by Ida Swearingen

We did a lot of driving on that trip, so we spent a lot of time looking at the signs and finding funny voices to quote them in.

“Mrs. Baggit says…”

Mrs. Baggit had a lot to say on that trip, all of it scold-y, although I can’t remember exactly what it was anymore. Except, of course, for “Keep Britain Tidy.”

To understand why that kept us amused, you need to know that tidy sounds different to an American ear than to a British one. To me, tidy is fussy. It’s small. All I have to do is think about it and I want to make bitsy motions with my fingertips, as if I’m cleaning up a dollhouse. As far as I can tell, none of that is true in the U.K. It’s just a word here. It means neat and doesn’t make your fingers do funny things in the empty air, although H. tells me the Mrs. Baggit part sounds fussy.

I should stop here and admit that when I started that last paragraph I was going to speak for an entire nation: For us (us here being all Americans—every last differentiated, argumentative one of us) tidy is fussy. Then some minimal sense of modesty (not to mention accuracy) caught up with me and I thought it might be nice if I didn’t mistake my mind for the mind of an entire, not to mention large and varied, country, even if I did grow up and live most of my life there. So I’ve backed off a bit. But I still hold that it has different overtones to an American ear than to a British one. That much, I think, is fair.

Language is like that. We think of it as a solid, but it’s not. It’s one of those slow liquids, like Silly Putty, that changes shape depending on what holds it, or who.

So how successful was the campaign? I never saw British roadsides before it started, so I can’t make a comparison, but I know this much: If you look for litter here, you’ll find it. And if you don’t look for it, you’ll find it anyway. I’ve seen places with more, but Mrs. Baggit hasn’t stopped the litterbugs mid-throw.

And who in their right mind thought she would?

Measuring Butter in a Cornish Kitchen

I made a pound cake a few years ago and a friend asked for the recipe. I copied it for her, and a day or two later, she called up.

“What’s a stick of butter?” she asked.

I was afraid she understood it as a verb: Stick that butter where? The thought threw me enough that it took a bit of back and forth in my head before I got stick of butter translated.

“A quarter of a pound? Four ounces? Eight tablespoons?”

Irrelevant Photo: Cows.

Irrelevant Photo: Cows. They never heard of a stick of butter.

Butter here isn’t sold by the pound, and no one over a certain age thinks in ounces. But when the U.S.—or what later became the U.S.—was young and impressionable, Britain convinced its population to use a completely batty system of measurements: 8 ounces to a cup, 2 cups to a pint, 2 pints to a quart, 4 quarts to a gallon, but look out because ounces are both a measure of weight and a measure of volume but they’re not interchangeable, you just sort of have to know which one the recipe means. Sixteen ounces in a pound. We’re not going to get into bushels and hogsheads and their even more obscure friends and relatives, and I have no idea how many feet to the mile but, for no apparent reason, there are three to the yard. Then the British gave the system up and adopted the completely logical metric system. (Mostly. Car-related distances and speeds are still measured in miles. Go figure.) There was a predictable backlash from people convinced civilization was coming to an end, but by that’s faded away now, leaving us with no quarter pound and no ounces, although they do still use teaspoons and tablespoons sometimes. (Three teaspoons to a tablespoon, in case anyone asks.)

Even I’ve adapted. I stopped asking for a pound of lunchmeat at the deli counter, because even though they’re theoretically bilingual they always thought I was talking about currency—a pound’s worth. Which these days isn’t much. And since no one says half a kilo, I ask for 500 grams.

And I’m a vegetarian.

What does this have to do with butter? When you buy butter here, it doesn’t come marked into tablespoons because you subdivide it by the gram, which unlike the ounce is a measure of weight and only of weight. The packages are close enough to half a pound that I still think of them that way, but they’re not cut into sticks, the way god also intended, they’re sort of flattish and clunky. Hence my friend’s confusion. No one talks about a stick of butter here because there are no sticks of butter.

Sad, isn’t it?

If you plan to bake over here, you need kitchen scales—not just for butter, but for most ingredients, because they’re measured by weight. Of course, a few gifted cooks just know how much of an ingredient they need without having to measure. I knew a woman like that back in Minnesota. I asked her for her pancake recipe once.

“You start with enough milk for pancakes,” she said.

“Edith,” I said. “Never mind.”

British English and American English

If you browse the expat blogs, you’ll find gleeful posts tracking the dividing line between British and American English. And a wandering line it is. Are pants those things you wear under your jeans or are jeans one kind of pants? Is the fanny pack a bizarre medical procedure or a practical but geeky accessory? When you live your life in a semi-foreign language, all that stuff becomes important.

It also cues the kind of giggles you get when an eight-year-old has a chance to say “fart.”

Irrelevant Photo: Rocks near Minions, eroded by the wind. By Ida Swearingen

Irrelevant Photo: Rocks near Minions, eroded by the wind. By Ida Swearingen

But pants and fanny aren’t even on the real dividing line. Only I know what really divides the Englishes: It’s the use of that and which.

I know: Speaking of geeky. Only someone who’s worked as a copy editor even notices, never mind cares.

I have worked as a copy editor, though, and I do. American publishing follows Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and British publishing doesn’t. The distinction has to do with lawnmowers. You never thought of lawnmowers as a grammatical concept? See what you missed out on? Example A: The lawnmower, which is in the garage, is broken. This means we have one lawnmower. Example B: The lawnmower that is in the garage is broken. This means we have more than one, so use the other. I left it on the dining room table.

British publishing doesn’t care about lawnmowers. This—to a recovering American copy editor—is as shocking as wearing your pants inside your trousers.

It all has to do with restrictive and non-restrictive clauses and is too obscure to bother explaining. Which is lucky, since I don’t trust myself to get it right. And (she said defensively) you can be a perfectly competent copy editor and not be able to explain any of it. All you have to be able to do is apply it. It’s like not being able to explain electricity but knowing how to charge your phone.

Legend has it that Strunk and White introduced the that/which division because they thought it would be useful, if only it could be pounded into millions of recalcitrant little heads. In other words, they weren’t telling us about something that already existed, and so the aforesaid heads resisted the distinction because it wasn’t native to the language. But the owners of those heads still manage to mow their lawns and figure out, when and if it matters, how many lawnmowers they have.

So the that/which distinction is arbitrary and unnecessary, and in the long run the spoken language will always win out against the silly twits who tell us what’s wrong with the way we speak. But having made a career—such as it was—out of knowing this sort of stuff, it’s painful to watch as entire country consign it to the dustbin of irrelevant grammar. Even if it belongs there.

On an emotional and philosophical level, I’m on the side of spoken English, in all its barbaric glory. I’m not impressed with formal writing, for the most part. I believe that the language gains its power from use and that the hair-splitters are fighting a rear-guard action. If you break the rules of grammar idiomatically and well, the force is with you. And, in case you care, so am I.

On the other hand, I’ve read enough tin-eared writing to value the rules of grammar. Not because they keep us from barbarism and illiteracy, but because they keep us from incoherence. So I’m passionately on both sides of this battle, and if it ever turns violent both sides will call on me to shoot myself as a traitor.