Language pedantry: UR DOING IT WRONG
Steven Pinker should be given a weekly column in the New York Times to write about the foibles of language pedants and why they’re usually wrong, for two major reasons:
1) He’s good at it.
2) It would occupy his time so that he’d have less of it for pushing badly researched, half-baked, but wholly sexist evo psych theories about Why Women Suck And Are Stupid, theories which perversely end up arguing the case that Steven Pinker Sucks And Is Stupid. Which isn’t true, as long as he sticks to what he knows, which is language.
His recent column in the Times is why I think he should get this regular column. (Hat tip to Darcy for emailing the link.) He tackles the “split infinitive” myth and suggests that pedantry and not politics is why Justice Roberts flubbed the oath of office, which is written as “to faithfully execute” instead of “to execute faithfully”. Which means that if the Constitution had blog comments, the Founders would have been besieged with grumpy complaints about how kids these days can’t write a grammatical sentence.
To the grammar nazis out there, consider this: John Roberts is a grammar nazi/language pedant of the highest order. It’s part of Robert’s larger loathing of the earthiness of humanity and of other expressions of that humanity such as relaxing, having a genuine smile, and sleeping in a bed with your spouse instead of in a cryogenic tank designed to keep you alive until you’re 160 years old. Witness the horrors of raw right wing authoritarianism:
In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Is there enough material like this to justify a weekly column? I think so. Our language is changing fast to reflect a fast-moving world, which means that the language pedants who prefer to keep language in a crystallized form that never really existed (including unsplit infinitives and everything!) have more reasons to have minor aneurysms on an hourly basis. I could see so many Pinker columns, including one praising the efficiency of text messaging grammar, one defending new coinages stemming from the internet, and maybe even one suggesting that our language would be better off if you could use the word “ain’t” as a contraction for “am not”.