I was directed to a blog dedicated to debunking language shibboleths. Participating is John McWhorter – very impressive.
On that same blog is Geoff Nunberg who quotes himself writing about William Safire. I write this to show the members of the listservs I am on how restrained I am in characterizing those who “plant their flag” on some piece of absolutely pointless grammar distinction and declare themselves to be upholders of civilization and all that.
“He was no snob. You can’t imagine him comparing a poet who confused between and among with someone picking his nose at a party, the way John Simon once did. And he wasn’t susceptible to the grammatical vapors that affect writers like Lynne Truss â€” the people who like to describe lapses of grammar as setting their teeth on edge, making their skin crawl, or leaving them gasping for breath, as if they’d spent all their lives up till now closeted with Elizabeth and Darcy in the morning room at Pemberley. ”
Now that’s mean, and as much as I enjoyed reading it, I would never write such on flteach. If you don’t know who John Simon is, suffice it to say I saw him once on the Dick Cavett show when he exclaimed in exasperation, “Well, I am not talking about people so stupid as to not know the difference between the nominative and accusative cases!” The man, a famous drama critic, has written a lot of crap about “bad English”. This reference to case grammar from a man who grew up speaking Serbo-Croatian, a language with cases, went to school in German, another language with cases, and studied Latin and Greek there, both languages with cases. But any American who can’t delineate the functions of the nominative and accusative cases is stupid. That is the sort of grammar maven we are dealing with and who fool the public into a crippling self-consciousness about their own speech.