The cost of thoughtless shibboleths

My friend, Brian and I often joke about the uptight English teacher who was so hung up on correctness. These people usually don’t know grammar very well, just the shibboleths. Brian remembers the day she was talking about a family of boys who had come through the school and had done well. She said, “Those Jones boys don’t come shabbily”.
Clearly, she meant “turn out”, to approach in kind or quality, “This comes near perfection” [Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary]. We have here a linking verb which she has misinterpreted as an action verb requiring an adverb as complement, “Those Jones boys run quickly”. The misunderstanding or misinterpretation is understandable, given the many adverbs in English without an ly, as in “they run fast”; the word “slow” has even developed an unetymological ly to satisfy those who think all adverbs must end in ly.
But here we are not dealing with an adverb complement but with an adjective telling us what the boys are, not how they perform an action. In fact, a joke arose around how the Jones boys come and if their girlfriends might not be interested in how they come; come in that sense is certainly an action verb, something they are doing, not what they are.
Her mistake is a good illustration of what slavish adherence to poorly understood grammar rules, esp unfounded grammar shibboleths, leads to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *