Monday, 9 July 2007

Shibboleths of a "good education"

Some grammatical rules that have been used as shibboleths of a "good education" include

  • no prepositions at the end of sentences (which often provokes the reply, apocryphally attributed to Churchill, that "this is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put".)
  • no verbless sentences (these are common in literature: Not so. Really?)
  • use different from rather than different than (different than has been well established in literature for centuries; cf. different to)
  • no initial ands or buts (in literature, and and but can even begin a paragraph: But suppose all this is rubbish? or, And so it turns out ...)
  • use a possessive noun with a gerund: women's having the vote would be ... (actually, women having the vote is traditional usage)
  • no use of themself or theirselves as pronouns to refer to singular nouns or persons: The teacher will introduce themself at the beginning of the lecture. (This usage is contentious, with supporters on both sides of the argument. This has developed as a gender-neutral alternative.)
  • use of the subjunctive mood. The "correct" form is "If it were so..." rather than, "If it was..." and "Whether it were..." rather than "Whether it was..." While the subjunctive is frequently dropped, especially in colloquial English, it is still a widely used part of the language and an educated speaker will find fault in such examples as "would that it was so", rather than "would that it were so."
  • between you and I (more properly between you and me; "me" is objective case, suited for use in a prepositional phrase. However, because "me" is often used for "I" in informal speech, and sometimes judged incorrect according to grammatical standards, speakers often resort to hypercorrection, producing this phrase, which is used as a negative shibboleth indicating a social climber. An interesting case because it is a shibboleth produced by trying to avoid another shibboleth.)


No comments: