M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Tuesday, December 17, 2002  

Lately, there’s an issue I’ve been spending way too much time thinking about. It’s something I haven’t found a way around. Especially now that I’ve got this blog that I spend so much time working on. It’s a somewhat controversial grammar rule that a lot of people have had enough of. But for others, it’s one they can’t live without. Churchill said, “That is nonsense up with which I shall not put;” or at least, Churchill is the guy whom that quote is most often attributed to.

Now is the time you’ve probably figured it out by.

Yes, I’m talking about the rule that claims that a preposition is something you should never end a sentence with. It’s something I’m tired of obsessing about. I’m hoping that after today’s entry, my system will have gotten it out.

Years ago, I thought I had this rule completely written off. Not that it was something I ever put too much thought into. I just assumed that everyone had figured out that its day was through. I agreed with them…until.

No, actually, I do still agree with the people who think that the preposition rule is one that should have been gotten rid of. The problem is that there are other people, people whose intelligence and abilities I respect and admire, who still think it’s a rule to live by. And that’s a reality that I can’t quite get my mind around.

See, when I do my final edit before posting every day (on the days when I do a final edit, that is), I always find stuff that the entry will be better off without. Typos and spelling errors are worth spending a couple of minutes on. Passive voice is generally, and rightly, looked down upon. As correctly are split infinitives, especially considering how easy those are to correct for. Of course, there are rules that I consciously ignore on occasion, just because there’s a certain way I want them to read like. Entries with fragments throughout. And if I listened to Microsoft Word’s grammar checker every time it told me that a sentence I composed was too long, well, let’s just say that I’d have a whole lot fewer long sentences in these pages, and I like to flatter myself that that particular quirk is one that people would miss if it disappeared, so Microsoft Word’s grammar checker is just going to have to get over the fact that it’s what I write like this in spite of. But as for ending sentences with prepositions, even Word doesn’t consider it worth calling me on.

The preposition thing, though, is hard to get over. That’s because I can drop those other idiosyncrasies, depending on what I’m writing about and whom I’m writing it for. It results in drier prose, but I can still get my point across. On the other hand, the preposition rule can demand some pretty tortured sentence construction if slavishly adhered to. Is the very meaning and sense of the language something that a seemingly arbitrary rule of grammar should be prioritized above? The rules of grammar should facilitate meaning, not leave it behind.

But as time passes, it’s a boundary that I find myself less and less inclined to step beyond. What if the person who reads one of my preposition-terminal sentence is someone that the rule is law to? Fine, I’m sure that happens all the time, but what if that person is an employer whom I might conceivably get offered a job by? Especially if that’s the only rule that person knows, and he or she can’t even write a contraction without looking in a dictionary to check which letters the apostrophe goes between. That’s the kind of humiliation I’d have trouble getting past.

As a result, this is a rule that I’ve gotten fairly good at writing around. 95% of the time, I can simply reconstruct a sentence so that I don’t have to choose, rather than forcing myself to go one way or another whenever the issue comes up. And this relatively new skill of mine, I’m a little bothered by. Maybe I should be totally militant about the rule; after all, everybody needs an injustice to rebel against. And a world where Kiefer Sutherland slams suspects against the wall and has to bellow, “For whom are you working?” isn’t a world I want to live in.

The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that language should be like government in the sense that the people should be whom it’s of, by, and for. Not to mention from, about, under, with, and toward.

Or maybe this question upon which I’m hung is something over which I need to just get.

posted by M. Giant 3:23 PM 0 comments


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