Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Grandpa's Grammer

My grandfather started making a Facebook page, but like most things he signs up for on the internet, he became bored with it and has not completed his profile. I am constantly reminded of this fact when he pops up on my sidebar and it shows a picture of him. The picture is of an old man, slightly bewildered, and kind of shrinking away from the camera. I don't know why he chose this as his profile picture. Anyway, the sidebar photo implores me to “help him find his friends.”

My grandmother once said to him, “you don't have any friends, they are all dead.”

Shakespeare never spelled his name that way. In fact, English as a language is wholly without authority of any real context. That is the beauty of the language. Most of the rules and regulations that have been passed off as concrete in our classrooms are little more than very solid opinions that live on a very slippery path and slide around gratuitously. In fact, as long as it is intelligible, almost anything can be said to be English. It is a built in irony that our English teachers never deigned to mention that the “rules” are just as bad as the exceptions we often take for granted.

Shakespeare wrote his name as Shakspere and Shakspeare but never Shakespeare. Think about that for a second. But wait a sec Nick, what about dictionaries, surely they present a standardized spelling that everyone uses right? Yeah, but only sort of. You see, dictionaries in the English language tend to be authoritative only to the degree that they record events instead of delegate rules. Dictionaries exist as a way to put into text a reference for what is happening in the world, and not a way to decide what should be. In point of fact, many spellings change and definitions are similarly lacking to a large degree. Just look at how we colloquially spell “yeah” as “yea, ya, and yeh.” None of the spellings are wrong and all adequately convey what we are trying to say. Spelling for the most part is democratically dictated.

For a more in-depth and exciting look at what I am talking about, take a look at Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. The point that I am trying to make is that grammar Nazis really have no business in our business. Granted I can be one, but the conveyance of points is superseded by any arbitrary rules, that if adequately researched, are found to have no ground. No one that speaks English gets to make the rules alone. So use double-negatives, ain't, and mispellings (that was misspelled). No one should care, English is a free language in a free country.