Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I think the tendency toward self-flagellation for grammatical errors, both real and imagined, must be a uniquely English trait. I read a handful of blogs from England regularly and am always amused at the frequency of parenthetical apologies for splicing infinitives and dangling participles. These crop up, not only in the middle of posts, but in the comments too! And if one isn’t quick to acknowledge their own grammatical infractions with an immediate mea culpa, there’s sure to be a subsequent commenter to gleefully dissect them in full public view.
I read at least as many American blogs and can’t remember a single instance of any such apology appearing in them. The closest I’ve seen are a few writers who occasionally need to unburden the guilt that results from the gratuitous use of italics, bold type, and parentheses. These writers, however, seem to feel guilty about these trespasses not because they are somehow in error, but merely because they are an unnecessary indulgence—much the same way I feel about chocolate. The mere admission that they know these habits are somehow wrong seems to empower them to carry on committing them anyway, just like acknowledging, “I really shouldn’t have any more,” makes taking yet another Hershey Kiss from the candy dish seem reasonable.

My best theory is that Americans can maintain such a casual stance toward grammar because we speak a language that isn’t named for our country. It’s easy for us to shrug off the finer points of grammar and revert to communicating with grunted phrases such as “and stuff like that,” and “ya know what I mean?” because there’s no element of national pride in it for us. But I guess if you’re English and can’t expertly navigate the English language, you have slightly more at stake.

Then again, maybe Americans have simply played fast and loose with the language since we held certain truths to be self-evident. Who knows?

But let’s hear it for the English language. Without it, we’d be left to attempt to communicate solely through gestures. And anyone who ever drives a freeway could easily predict how that would affect international relations.

On a completely unrelated topic, I had to remind Howser tonight that, since I’ve already had all the children I intend to conceive, if I can’t rely on him for yard work and the occasional minor automotive repair, he’s really out-lived his usefulness to me. Sometimes only the blunt approach works when it comes to getting his potted ass out from in front of the computer. I think Dr. Phil would call this “Tough Love.”

22 Response to " "

Trucker Bob Says:

Ol' Hoss told me to come over and give you a *HUG*.

Pirate Says:

I am sorry for messin wit da merican language.

I agree with so much with what you're trying to convey, but the American should never find shame of others pointing out their shortcomings in a public setting.

As for apologizing and then continuing down the same path, maybe we are all Baptist.

OldHorsetailSnake Says:

The VERY DAY I mention you in my post you point out what a crappy writer I am. The very idea...!!!

Futurely (not a wd.) I will put a disclizzle in my piecizzle.

(FYI, I am sending this post to my old English professor to see if he can find something wrong with it, I said, gleefully rubbing my hands.)

Dave Says:

'But let’s hear it for the English language. Without it, we’d be left to attempt to communicate solely through gestures...'

So we'll forget, shall we, German, French, or even that crazy mixed-up sloppy language we English call American.

Danger Panda Says:

I don't know about you, Dave, but I don't speak German or French, I doubt you'd stoop to speaking American, but I think we both probably have a solid foundation in drive-time sign language. At least I know I do!

TLP Says:

Hoss sent me. Good post.

I have to laugh because the Englishman above called you out on your inappropriate use of "solely."

I object to the misuse of our language in print, or on newscasts. However, in blogs one should just type freely. If we all stop to worry about grammar, there won't be much writing going on.

actonbell Says:

Me, too! (Hoss sent me). I've enjoyed reading over your blog entries:)
Lovely template, btw.
Good luck lighting a fire under Howser!

FTS Says:

I'm chuckling over here. I enjoyed reading this, based solely on its own merits. ;-)

Hale McKay Says:

I'm not here solely because Hoss said to give you a hug. To a former West (by God) Virginian, if'n them Brits are so gall durn prissy about grammar, how come they add an extra syllable to aluminum? Where do they get "Aluminium?" I'll smack the next one who tries to me correct me when I when I admire that 'Jagwar,' as opposed to his "Jaguer." The elevator was invented by Americans, if Otis wanted it to be called a "lift," he would have named it so.

Meredith Says:

According to the English folk Americans speak a bastardized version of the language. So we can let them fuss over the details and just throw our words about as we wish. What a relief.

Hoss sure has some good reads like yourself...

Dave Says:

I suppose we bother about grammar because we had to learn how to spell difficult words properly (cheque, honour, aluminium, doughnut) rather than just writing down the first thing that comes into our heads that sounds about right.

I can understand how it must make your American readers feel inferior, by their responses.

Dave Says:

Oh, and by the way, Otis didn't invent the lift, or the elevator. Sorry about that.

They were in use as early as the 3rd century BC, operated by human, animal, or water wheel power. From about the middle of the 19th century, powered devices, often steam-operated, were used.

What Elisha Otis demonstrated, in 1853, was a freight 'elevator' equipped with a safety device to prevent falling. It's the safety device he invented, not the lift.

surly girl Says:

i watch my spelling but that's about all - grammar sort of goes over my head, for the most part. as it's complicated and makes my brain hurt.

as a britisher myself, i'd never presume to criticise an entire nation based on my prejudices. i mean that in a purely grammatical sense of course - your government's rubbish.

surly girl Says:

oh, and much more importantly, how did howser react to the news of his impending uselessness??

Jona Says:

I have heard tell, that it is the Scottish who use the English language in its most proper form. (Of course it was a Scot who told me this ;o))

And whilst I'm here, I'll mention what irritates me most is the way my spell checker constantly reverts to English (US) and butchers my spellings!

Jona Says:

Hey Amanda, I was about to email you something - but your link doesn't link.

Have you seen the cheeky email that went around after your recent elections about 'Great Britain speaking out'? I only forwarded it to one American friend, but I figure you've got a sense of humour and can handle it ;o) mail me if you'd like a copy

Jona Says:

Aaaahhh, I’ve just realised what I said may sound like I don’t think Americans have a sense of humour – many apologies – I don’t think that at all, it’s just your humour is different to ours, and as such tends to make me cautious.

Now please excuse me, as I have to dash, before this hole I’m digging gets any deeper :o)

Danger Panda Says:

Goodness, I take eight hours off to sleep and all kinds of controversy breaks out here! Well, have at it, folks. Let me know how it turns out (I think the English are leading at this both grammar and the history of the elevator/lift thanks to Dave).

Debie, my e-mail link doesn't work because I evidently have some sort of undiagnosed learning disability when it comes to setting up an e-mail account. I'll go to you through yours. Are you referring to the John Cleese letter to Americans? If so, Dave inflicted that on me (although its premise--that we can't elect proper leadership--is hard to argue with).

Surely Girl, Howser's uselessness in not impending, it's already in full bloom.

Angie Says:

My bad habit is that I type the way I speak. I am not writing an essay or a novel. I am trying to have a conversation with my readers. I write from that point of view.

Thank you so much for your visits to my journal. :-)

Donna Says:

I'm english and I talk crap mostly ;)

And wasn't it the Paternosters who invented lifts, or indeed Paternosters (I think we have one of the few still working Paternosters in our building at work - it's ancient and its kind of like getting into a food delivery hatch, only bigger)

Donna Says:

I was wrong about Paternosters. As I said I pretty much talk (and write) crap.

But I'm loving your catnip/shoe story, even though I'm commenting on the wrong post.

car01 Says:

Dave's backtrack post led me to yours, and just to throw my 2p (or 2c or whatever you Americans call it) into the mix: I would never refer to a British person as "English" because that's the language they speak. I myself am a hybrid of Scottish, English and Welsh, but think of myself as British.

The sole reason for using good grammar is so your audience understands precisely what you mean, because you've followed certain conventions. Same with spelling. It's all just good manners, really :)

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