310. Obsessing over English

I love the English language. It’s a weird one, to be sure, but I love it anyway.

English began as a Germanic language called Anglo-Saxon. The Norman invasion of England in 1066 stirred in some French, eventually resulting in the sing-song language known as Middle English. Over the centuries, shifts in grammar, spelling, syntax, and pronunciation, along with words and phrases from other languages, have added up to the glorious mess we call English.

I’ve heard of two approaches to English and language in general. The first is a prescriptivist approach, which says, “This is how English must work, and everyone who disagrees is wrong.” I think this approach is hopeless, not to mention silly. Language changes constantly. A person may as well try to impose immutable order on the clouds above as on the English language.

(Of course, some formal standards are necessary for certain kinds of writing. It improves communication for professionals in the same profession to follow the same rules. What I frown upon is a universally prescriptivist approach to the English language.)

I prefer a descriptivist view, which says, “This is how English actually works right now. Let’s roll with it.” I disapprove of sloppy writing, but I don’t mind other people following different rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax. If other writers want to split infinitives, use sentence fragments, or end sentences in prepositions—and they’re consistent about it—who am I to argue?

When it comes to my own writing, however, I think I have linguistic OCD. Is that a thing? Let’s assume linguistic OCD is a thing. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can afflict anyone, even linguists.

As relaxed as I am about writing in general, I’m obsessive about my own. I seldom begin sentences with And or But. I never split infinitives, even though the rule about not splitting them is (according to an old college professor) an obsolete leftover from Latin. Heck, I even hate ending sentences with a parenthesis or the letter because I think these symbols look untidy next to a period.

I… I think I need help.

All right, not really. But I sure could loosen up a bit.

That last sentence was a little hard to write. I’ll keep working on it.

2 thoughts on “310. Obsessing over English

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