Friday, September 19, 2014

Breaking the Rules

          We dislike rule breakers, don’t we?  People who skid through stop signs, people who use dreadful grammar on purpose.  They make us frown, at the very least.
But guess what I’ve discovered?  We’re all rule breakers.  You just have to go back a bit to see that dozens of words we love and use, were frowned upon just a few years ago.  And we’re slinging them around like Jackson Pollock, creating a masterpiece.
Ever gotten a great deal on something?  Well, DEAL was considered a coarse, crude way to describe an agreement, back in the 1890s.  I, for one, am glad we have relaxed our standards.  Imagine my husband, Bob, who hosted the national TV show, Let’s Make a Deal, after Monty Hall, having to say, “Let’s Make a Mutually Acceptable Transaction!”  It just doesn’t fall from the lips the same way, does it?
There are hundreds of words forbidden by yesteryear’s standard of refined diction, but we hear them all the time today.
Hasten was preferred to HURRY, Child was preferred to KID, Angry was better than MAD, and sensible people said, “an Abundance” instead of “LOTS.
In 1894 Oliver Bell Bunce wrote, “Don’t say DONATE when you mean give. The use of the pretentious word for every instance of giving has become… nauseating.  If one can not give his church or town library a little money without calling it donating, in the name of good English, let him keep his gift until he has learned better.”  That’s the spirit, Oliver.
ANYHOW was considered “exceedingly vulgar” and “unpardonable” back then, as was using AGGRAVATE (which means to make more serious) when you merely mean irritate.
And, as recently as 1965, DONE was skewered as a poor substitute for finished or completed.  Waiters, take note!
Answering “FINE” to “How are you?” is careless indeed; the correct response is “Well.”  Even the word, FUN, was considered a slovenly adjective.  Yet what would we do without it?
I recall teachers explaining that UNIQUE is already a superlative, thus something cannot be “more” unique or “very” unique.  And that LOAN is not a verb, but a noun; you lend, but cannot loan.   Furthermore, lists should never turn numbers into adverbs (firstly, SECONDLY, etc.)  We should simply say first, then second.
But English is a dynamic, swirling ocean of words, changing through usage all the time.  Unless we can adapt, I fear we will forever be mad and aggravated.  I mean angry and irritated.  One of those.

If you love language and grammar, you simply must meet Kate, the central character in my comedy novel, Sisters in the Mix, available in kindle or hard copy here.

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