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John Cowan

The iron law is called the Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation. It's also known as Muphry's [sic] Law, Skitt's Law, Hartman's Law (I used to work with Jed Hartman), and [Erin] McKean's Law.

I think 5 and 8 show that Mr. White's English is American, at least foundationally. 8 is the sort of subjunctive that an educated AmE speaker (such as myself) uses quite automatically. In 10, commit a clanger I think represents an underlying commit a howler, which is good AmE. Is clanger more common than howler in BrE? Certainly in AmE the reverse is true.

5 and 6 taken together are not really a problem. The intention is "Is the problem not bad enough [already], that Mr. M. should wish to make it worse?" rather than (as you read it) "Is the problem not bad enough [yet] that Mr. M. should wish to make it [even] worse?" I admit this is awkward, but it's the sort of thing people do write when committing "tantrum prose", as Northrop Frye calls it: "several acres of Carlyle and Ruskin".

In 9, referenda is listed without comment as an alternative plural in m-w.com, AHD5, ODO, and the OED3. Although gerundives are not normally nouns in Latin, they often are used so in English, in which case the plural in -a is natural. Consider addenda, corrigenda, definienda, memoranda, all standard plurals.

I don't see any stylistic problem with 15. The difficulty is that defective should be deficient.

Finally, Tristán is standard in both Spanish (where the accent represents stress) and Hungarian (where it represents vowel length and quality).


Pedantry is not synonymous with ignorance. It is defined as one who is obsessed with minor details and rules. One who is punctilious.

Therefore, Tristan White's comment has as much accreditation as Mr.Marsh's. It's just a matter of opinion.

Peter Harvey

John, He might be American-influenced. I know that the subjunctive is used more in AmEng than in BrEng.

Whatever he means with 5 and 6 it is very badly expressed.

Referenda is used, certainly, but it is a strange choice as a point to defend.

I think you are right about deficient.

I put the sic after the name simply to show that it was not an error in copying.

Peter Harvey

Calitri, Pedantry is indeed not the same as ignorance but they often go together. This is especially so in the field of language, where. As Anthony Burgess says:

"In quarrels about words, people seem unwilling to see reason. Mercury, the rogue-god who presides over language, renders them blind to dictionaries and to experts. There is a general conviction that language is not a matter for experts. We all know about language because we all use language. No similar conclusion is drawn from the fact that we all use kidneys, nerves, and intestines."

Opinions do differ, and can be expressed with equal right, but that does not make them all equal in value.

Peter Harvey

A search for Tristán White shows only one man with that name (and accent) on LinkedIn*. He has a degree in Hispanic Studies from Queen Mary, University of London and is Internet Manager at Legal & General insurance.

Assuming that this is the same man, which seems highly probable, his views on the English language would appear to as valid as mine on internet management. It seems improbable, given his background, that he examines in the English language at the University of London. If that is so, his mention of his connection with the university is spurious. I happen to be an oral examiner for the Cambridge English language exams (First Certificate etc.) but I do not try to trade on the fact by mentioning it in contexts that have nothing to do with my professional activities.


Warsaw Will

The thing that first struck me about David Marsh's original ten items was how old hat most of them were. Do Guardian readers really still have to be told that there's nothing wrong with split infinitives or stranded prepositions? Assuming that Mr White is one of them, the answer appears to be 'Yes'.

Peter Harvey

David Marsh has a book to sell called For Who the Bell Tolls: One Man's Quest for Grammatical Perfection. That article is a plug for it.

Barrie England

Now reviewed, on the whole favourably, by Stan Carey: http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/book-review-for-who-the-bell-tolls-by-david-marsh/

Barrie England

Geoffrey Pullum has now weighed in: http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2013/10/09/the-guardian-opposes-zombie-rules/

Gwillim Law

>> [...] Is the grammar of today’s schoolchildren, already so influenced by the need to keep their missives (3) down to a paltry 140 characters (4), not bad enough, (5, 6) that Mr Marsh should wish to encourage such sloppiness (7) by recommending a general dumbing-down of our beautiful language?

> 6) This comma is certainly incorrect. Removing the subordinate clause we have: Is the grammar of today's schoolchildren … not bad enough, that Mr Marsh should wish to encourage such sloppiness.

I don't think that what was removed was a subordinate clause. Wouldn't it be an adjectival phrase, with "influenced" as its head word?

Or am I being too pedantic?

Peter Harvey

Now that I come to look at it again I see that you are right. It's rather long but it is not a clause (except elliptically).

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