Which Language Rules to Flout. Or Flaunt?
Here’s a chilling thought: What if our English teachers were wrong? Maybe not about everything, but about a few memorable lessons. So many millions of writers have needlessly contorted their prose to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. So many well-intentioned editors have fought to change “a historic” to “an historic.” If it turns out that the guidelines we cling to (“to which we cling”?) are nonsense, maybe the texters have the right idea when they throw out the old rules and start fresh.
But if you aren’t ready to give up — if the “flaunt” in that headline raised your blood pressure — then how can you tell the difference between a sound rule of English and a made-up shibboleth? Where do good rules come from, and how do bad ones catch on?
Room for Debate invited two authors to answer and argue: the journalist Robert Lane Greene and the usage expert Bryan A. Garner. (Their responses, conforming to ”The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,” may not represent their positions on style issues like hyphenation and serial commas.)
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