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Why do folks insist on prescriptive rules when they make little sense?

  1. Jeff Berndt profile image90
    Jeff Berndtposted 6 years ago

    For example, there's a prescriptive rule that older or more conservative English grammarians love: "do not split infinitives."

    But we love to split infinitives in English. We love to boldly go where no one has gone before, to bravely charge into the breach, to pompously correct each others' grammar, etc.

    And the reason we do it is simple: we /can/. Our infinitive form of verbs is "to+verb," that is, "to eat," "to sleep," "to go." But in French, we get "manger," "dormer," and "aller." In German, we get "essen," "schlafen," and "gehen." You simply cannot split an infinitive in French or German. It can't be done.

    So why on earth /shouldn't/ we split an English infinitive if we want to?

    1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
      Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      Versatility is good; I say do what ya want!  Plus, I hate rules, policies, and formalities - such limitations......

    2. Aya Katz profile image87
      Aya Katzposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      Split away! How can anybody stop you? Many prescriptive rules in English were taken from other languages with higher prestige at the time. (Latin did not split its infinitives.)

      Other prescriptive rules are an attempt to slow down the process of language change. Formal English attempts to preserve an older form of the language. Colloquial English tends to be the wave of the future -- or more progressive.

      However, things cycle. Take "often" which came from "oft" plus an -en ending. In pronouncing this word, the "t" eventually was dropped. But writing maintained the "t". Later, people started to pronounce the "t" again as a spelling pronunciation. Prescriptivists corrected them claiming the "t" had to be silent. But the spelling pronunciation was actually historically more "correct". It's more conservative.

    3. TheGlassSpider profile image82
      TheGlassSpiderposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      It's interesting that you brought this up...I was reading somewhere recently that that rule has been thrown out the window in English...maybe someone else knows more? But you're right, it's something "traditional" rules of English stress.

      1. Shadesbreath profile image89
        Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

        Like Aya said, split away.  Split infinitives are like ending sentences with a preposition.  They have an older, sort of high-brow "rightness" that really means nothing.  So split away.  And use prepositions as you like. 

        I heard a story about Sir Winston Churchill that went something like this:

        Sir Winston wrote a speech and in it he ended a sentence with a preposition.  One of his staff was editing the speech for him and came to him saying, "Sir Winston, you have ended this sentence with a preposition." 

        The great leader replied, "Well!  That is the type of writing up with which I will not put."

        I think that moment was the end of the preposition rule.

        1. Jeff Berndt profile image90
          Jeff Berndtposted 6 years ago in reply to this

          Funny you should bring up that Churchillism; I was going to use that as my second example of a prescriptive rule that doesn't make sense given the syntactic structure of the language.

          Aya is also right that many prescriptive rules come from other languages. One of my professors explained that those prescriptive rules were actually teaching tools to make it easier for a student to learn Latin (another language which has un-splittable infinitives).

          I'm also reminded of a story about a grammarian giving a talk in which he made fun of people who used double negatives, noting that if you follow the double negative logically, you will see that it "really" means the opposite of what the speaker intends. For example, "I don't have no money," works out to having money. If you don't have _no_ money, then you must have _some_ money. See? And the grammarian went on to observe that, oddly, there was no recorded instance in which a double-positive could be used to convey a negative meaning.

          And then a guy sitting in the front row said, derisively, "Yeah, yeah...."

          1. Shadesbreath profile image89
            Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

            HAH!  That is a GREAT story.  I'm totally adding that to my English geek repertoire.   Thanks!

            1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
              Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

              You have a repertoire besides a fridge full of beer; cool!

              1. Shadesbreath profile image89
                Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

                It's a very small repertoire outside of that.  Probably more of a repertoiette.

                1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
                  Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

                  Toilet? Perhaps?

                  1. Shadesbreath profile image89
                    Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

                    Yeah, that's right in there isn't it.  Hmmm.

          2. Víctor Manteiga profile image61
            VĂ­ctor Manteigaposted 6 years ago in reply to this

            I love that anecdote! Grammarians were heavily influenced by Logic once. However, language does not work like that. In Spanish, for instance, we use the double negation ('No tengo nada', 'no quiero ninguno', etc) as a most accepted way to negate a statement. Anyway, I find it a bit frustrating how prescriptive approaches make native speakers feel insecure when using their own mother tongue.

  2. mega1 profile image80
    mega1posted 6 years ago

    rules are good, laws are even better.  recently hubber Rochelle Frank has suggested that some same sox legislation is in order in her hub "Same Sox Legislation Needed NOW"  to keep socks matched and in order she wants laws made - she suggests that without laws and enforcers socks will continue to be mismatched.  I think she's going a little to far, same sox marriage?  but everyone will decide for themselves I suppose, meanwhile, my socks are still matching up with unlikely mates and separating themselves.  there doesn't seem much I can really do about it.  I may have to institute a sock ban for really corrupt socks who just won't behave.

    1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
      Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      You need rules & laws to organize your socks?  LOL!

      1. mega1 profile image80
        mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

        that's the idea - but now that I think more on it - perhaps we should just let the buggers do whatever they want and run totally amuck!

        1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
          Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

          I'm sorry your meds haven't "kicked in" ...YET!

          1. mega1 profile image80
            mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

            long may we run!  and coming from you, that is quite the compliment!

    2. profile image0
      kimberlyslyricsposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      I can't help but wonder if famous people with paparazzi have matched socks?  Mind you they probably have people doing this for them smile
      Hi Mega smile

      1. mega1 profile image80
        mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

        Kimberly! surprise, surprise!  are you going to do some 'splainin? or just let it ride and see which ways the winds blow!  how very entertaining!

      2. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
        Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

        Can you even color-coordinate your undergarments with you asinine attire?

        1. mega1 profile image80
          mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

          I bet she'll let you see for yourself!  big_smile:

  3. TheGlassSpider profile image82
    TheGlassSpiderposted 6 years ago

    LOL Shadesbreath, that's one of my favorite Churchill-isms...although I had heard that a fan wrote to him complaining of his bad grammar.

    One upon a time, an English/Rhetoric professor of mine told me that the best reason to learn the rules of English was so that we could cleverly break them.

    1. Shadesbreath profile image89
      Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      Yeah, I think that's the heart of it.  The rules give structure to something so that when someone deviates from that structure with purpose, it has something to say.

      And I've heard different versions of that Churchill story too.  I brought it up once somewhere and people started arguing over how the story went and completely missed the joy of what Churchill was saying.  English Nazis.

      1. TheGlassSpider profile image82
        TheGlassSpiderposted 6 years ago in reply to this

        Hahahah! @"English Nazis" Imagine how different things might have been if they were! yikes

        1. Shadesbreath profile image89
          Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

          YIKES!

        2. Rochelle Frank profile image88
          Rochelle Frankposted 6 years ago in reply to this

          Yeah-- and watch out for the sox nazis, too. I have since repented of my 'same sox' stance. I am now promoting mismatches for everyone.

          1. Shadesbreath profile image89
            Shadesbreathposted 6 years ago in reply to this

            LAWL!  You are such a peace maker, Rochelle.

          2. mega1 profile image80
            mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

            You and me both, honey, I thought that sox should stay together, but now I realize its better for the little ones if they just split and keep their sanity.  Are socks ever sane?  oh, jeez, I've gone to far again, haven't I!

          3. mega1 profile image80
            mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

            oh, and I just finished a hub and you are the star in it! on virtual museums, because you are the one who shared the Shoe Museum with me and that led to all kinds of nonsense!  so I linked to your Sox Legislation hub, and I hope you will like it and it gets you lots and lots of attention, because (don't be angry with me) you are nuts!  just like me!  koolay, koolee!

            1. Rochelle Frank profile image88
              Rochelle Frankposted 6 years ago in reply to this

              I may have been nuts at certain times in the past-- but now I am old enough to merely be eccentric. Please show me a bit of respect. smile

              1. mega1 profile image80
                mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

                sorry.  in that context back then when I wrote that I actually thought I was giving you a compliment, comparing your madness to mine!  but now I see that I am still alone in my unique genius.  I meant no disrespect.  Eccentric you are.  Eccentric you will be.  Long live your eccentricity!

  4. DaniellaWood profile image75
    DaniellaWoodposted 6 years ago

    Here here! Prescriptivism is a subject that gets me fired up too! I am of the opinion that language is an ever-changing thing and no rules should hold it back - after all, spoken language is simply a series of sounds we make to transfer our thoughts into the mind of another, and writing does the same with symbols. So, so long as the message can still be understood, what does it matter if a few 'rules' are broken? The only thing that sets these so-called 'rules' are dictionaries, but even Samuel Johnson (author of the first significant dictionary in 1755) said in his preface: "No dictionary can be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding while others are falling away..." This just shows how nothing can stop "the ever-whirling wheel of change, in which all mortal things doth sway"!

  5. Robert Kernodle profile image90
    Robert Kernodleposted 6 years ago

    Okay, now that we have this settled,... if we could just get academic scientists to write their scientific journal articles in a more elagantly understandable style.

    For example, I began reading an article recently that began something like, "It will be demonstrated that..."

    IT?!  Who is it?!  "Its" do not have anything to do with demonstrating.  Demonstrating is done by some BODY or some more precise subject.  For example, "Our data will demonstrate", or "We will demonstrate" [whoa!, actually taking responsibility for what you demonstrate,... scaaaaarrrry!]

    In this case, a prescriptive rule would be most welcome -- a rule such as DO NOT USE "IT" IN A PASSIVE VOICE TO EVADE A SUBJECT THAT ACTS -- yes, I'm yelling it ["it", in this instance, is a rather distant referrent to my subject, "a prescriptive rule", with a further force of an understood plea to stop the sort of "itisms" that my "it" refers to [yes, I even ended the sentence in a preposition .. heathen!!].

    How many prescriptive rules have I just broken in my endorsement of SOME prescriptive rules?

    Rules are the absolute best foundations on which to make the most creative violations.

    1. mega1 profile image80
      mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

      people being so passionate today!  whooooooot!

    2. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
      Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      Most people are absolute morons; plain & simple!

  6. mega1 profile image80
    mega1posted 6 years ago

    and the winds will blow . . .

    1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
      Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      Yeah, but you have weak gusts...

  7. mega1 profile image80
    mega1posted 6 years ago

    obscure - I think you will like and understand this!
    SCIENTISTS REPORT BRAIN CENTER BRAIN CENTER; ANNOUNCE CENTER CENTER CENTER.

    NeuroCooking NewsService, Kensington Maryland, 1 April 2010: In an announcement of stunning importance, leading neuroscientists today reported the discovery of the brain center dedicated to subserving belief in dedicated brain centers, and the founding of a research center devoted to study of the newly-discovered brain center for brain centers.

    "Those functional neuroimaging reports of dedicated brain centers for things like pinball, banjo music, and knitting? Some people believe that stuff, and some don't," said Dr. Wan Ker of Bigger University, who led the study. "We asked why only some people believe it, and used functional brain imaging to answer the question. We found, in the subicular insula, a region that 'lights up' only in people who believe that stuff, and only when they believe it. So, we have found the brain center that subserves belief in brain centers."


    Capitalizing on their findings, Prof. Ker and colleagues also announced the establishment of the Center for the Study of the Center for Centers (a.k.a. the Center Center Center) as well as plans to file for related patents. They have already filed a patent on using fMRI to select people with especially active center centers for journal editorial boards. No word on whether Center Center Center candidates will have their center centers assessed.

    1. Obscurely Diverse profile image60
      Obscurely Diverseposted 6 years ago in reply to this

      That was jumbled hogwash!!!  Thanks...  LOL!

      1. mega1 profile image80
        mega1posted 6 years ago in reply to this

        it was a joke I found when I was searching for info on brain centers for things like love, hate, etc.  Maddy said that the center for the feet is right next to the sex center in our brains which is why women love shoes so much -- then when I found this it made sense to me!  the brain center for believing in brain centers is the brain center brain center -  one of those science jokes.  tee hee.  and your response btw is hilarious!  I am still laughing!  you funny, dude!

 
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