October 07, 2004

The self-styled grammarian: no respect

I noticed recently that John Allen Paulos opens his well-known book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences (Hill & Wang, 1988) thus:

Innumeracy, an inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance, plagues far too many otherwise knowledgeable citizens. The same people who cringe when words such as "imply" and "infer" are confused react without a trace of embarrasssment to even the most egregious of numerical solecisms. I rmember once listening to someone at a party drone on about the difference between "continually" and "continuously". Later that evening we were watching the news, and the TV weathercaster announced that there was a 50 percent chance of rain for Saturday and a 50 percent chance for Sunday, and concluded that there was therefore a 100 percent chance of rain that weekend. The remark went right by the self-styled grammarian, and even after I explained the mistake to him, he wasn't nearly as indignant as he would have been had the weathercaster left a dangling participle.

Oh, yes! That's us grammarians, stuffy old bores who drone on about lexical differences and can't tell when to add percentages and when to divide them by the number you first thought of! But hey, at least when we grammarians go to a party it doesn't involve first standing around distinguishing adverbs and then sitting down to watch the TV news! We have fun! There is such a thing as a grammarian who is a super fun wild and crazy guy, O.K., Mr Snooty Math Guy!

Us grammarians: we don't get no respect. I went out and bought a laptop. I chose an Apple. It had a worm in it...

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 7, 2004 01:46 PM