July 29, 2006

F A N B O Y S ?

Brett Reynolds in the inaugural post of his new blog comments on something that baffled him when he first began college teaching: FANBOYS. I hadn't heard of this before either. FANBOYS is nothing to do with fangirls. Says Brett:

The first time I walked into our writing centre, I noticed that FANBOYS was pasted in large letters across one wall. While many readers may be familiar with FANBOYS, I'd never heard of them, but according to many freshman writing textbooks, FANBOYS is a mnemonic for the co-ordinating conjunctions in English (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, & so).

This is supposed to be a list of words that pattern alike. (Check it out. They do not.) Much of what traditional grammar says about the purported "co-ordinating conjunctions" is a mess, like what it says about the pseudo-class of "conjunctions" generally; The Cambridge Grammar tries to straighten this out. Brett explains some of the more complex reality very nicely, and he also understands what makes an easily memorized oversimplification so seductive: "it gives the faithful a comfortingly simple handhold in a confusing world." It does indeed. A lot of style and grammar guide authors must look at a list of desiderata such as (1) simple, (2) memorizable, and (3) accurate, and think to themselves, two out of three isn't bad.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 29, 2006 01:16 PM