By: S.L. Frisbie, IV for Polk News-Sun
S.L. Frisbie IV Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame Member, 4th-Generation Polk County Newspaper Publisher
Grammar made (a little bit) simpler
Many years ago, I learned an anecdote about one of my favorite personalities, Winston Churchill, the only foreign-born person ever to be declared an honorary citizen of the United States.
One day a woman chided Sir Winston for ending a sentence with a preposition, to which he reportedly replied, “Madam, that is exactly the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put!”
Like all legends, it was told as the truth, and like all children, I accepted it as the truth. Over the years I began to suspect that it might not have been true, but I hoped that it was.
Last week, I read an article by a Professor Paul Brians, citing numerous occasions on which Churchill reportedly made similar rejoinders, and with a variety of specific wordings.
In his studies, Professor Brians could find no authoritative source verifying any of the accounts. Another legend of my childhood went down in flames.
My research was motivated by an e-mail from an outfit called Word Genius that announced that four traditional rules of grammar no longer are in force. Who or what Word Genius is I cannot say, but I can at least quote them as an authoritative-sounding source.
- It is now okay to end a sentence with a preposition. In the 17th Century, grammarians argued that since a preposition “can’t be stranded in Latin” (whatever that means), it shouldn’t be left dangling at the end of an English sentence, either.
- It is now okay to split infinitives. This also is rooted in Latin, a language in which I personally have never rooted. Captain Kirk’s famous mission was “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” If you can’t trust Captain Kirk, who can you trust?
- It is now okay to begin a sentence with a conjunction. I’m not sure I ever knew it wasn’t okay. Quoting Word Genius, which in turn is quoting Scriptures: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form … And God said ‘Let there be light.’” And that’s good enough for me.
- It is now okay to begin a sentence with “hopefully.” Since nobody challenges beginning a sentence with “clearly,” “unbelievably,” or “fortunately,” why not “hopefully”?
So there are the new rules.
And kids, if your English teacher asks you who in the world told you these usages are now correct, please don’t tell them it was me. Blame it on Word Genius, and then immediately ask for permission to go to the restroom before she asks for a better explanation.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He remembers a young managing editor who, when asked by even younger police reporters whether to use “petit larceny” or “petty larceny” in crime stories, always replied, “If you are writing the entire story in French, by all means use ‘petit;’ if the rest of the story is in English, let’s go with ‘petty’.” After all these years, he now apologizes for his sarcasm. He was just trying to be funny.)
Reprinted with permission of Polk News-Sun