February 25, 2008

Going to grammar hell in a handcart

"Bad grammar is everywhere you look, and I don't think students care about improving their basic skills. One of the senior teachers at our university can't spell or use grammar; nor can the Government; nor can several major retailers. What chance do we have? We're going to grammar hell in a handcart."

The quotation is from an anonymous colleague (first name Ruth) of an anonymous lecturer who published a column in Times Higher Education whining about (British) students today and their slovenliness and illiteracy. (The majority of articles in Times Higher Education seem to be devoted to whining; I had mistakenly thought it was a magazine of news about higher education, but in fact it is a remarkable case of a hobbyist's magazine, focusing on the very popular hobby of grumbling about UK universities, administrators, and students.) Not a single example of any grammar error appears in the article, not even a tiny hint of where the syntax of the "senior teacher", the "several major retailers", and the entire government goes wrong. Language Log can hardly get going on the problem if no examples are given, can it? One wonders just what these alleged grammar errors would turn out to be, in a world where (for example) one finds people complaining bitterly about locutions like between you and I who are not aware that Shakespeare's English has many examples of the same sort (the phrase just cited appears in The Merchant of Venice). It would take some examples to convince me that Ruth the mystery grumbler would be able to tell whether her handcart had arrived in grammar hell or not.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 25, 2008 05:19 AM