I'm bored of pedantic grammarians

How often does it need to be said? Language doesn't get worse or better; it just changes

OH GOD, I thought, not this one again. The publishers of the new Collins Dictionary of English have been trying to whip up a bit of publicity by asking a hundred or so celebrities and authors to nominate current abuses of the English language. The result, of course, was a positive feast of change-and-decay-in-all-around-I-see, as those well-known commentators on linguistic change Terry Waite, Bob Monkhouse and Sue Lawley stood up to protect the poor language from the barbarians at the gate.

Unfortunately, the ability of the strangely-assorted masses to opine about linguistic correctness was severely undermined by the fact that Collins asked them to take a spelling test of some slightly tricky English words, such as supersede, resuscitate, consensus and so on. Only four people got full marks - one the novelist Shena Mackay, who, I must say, I had always thought of as a woman to have on your side in a spelling bee. Individual users, such as poor old John Prescott, came in for a severe bashing for such heinous offences as saying "sceptre" when he meant "spectre" and speaking in rambling sentences, as most people do. Split infinitives were mentioned a great deal, and the use of words such as "nightmare", as in "I've just had a nightmare of an afternoon", described as deplorable and inappropriate exaggeration. Someone complained about Frank Dobson saying "different to" rather than "different from"; someone else about the Prime Minister using nouns as verbs, as in "tasking". Another commentator thought that the use of the expression "bored of" rather than "bored with" was a complete disgrace, not quite seeing that the really logical, though rather pissy expression ought to be be "bored by".

I can't think that this really needs to be said again, but this is all the most total rubbish. Of course, we all have our prejudices about linguistic use; personally, I dislike the use of the word "pristine" to mean "clean", or "jejune" to mean "childish", while seeing that it's a bit of a lost battle. And other people's views on language always seem either prissy - just fancy caring that everyone now says "bored of" - or slack. I have no particular opinion about "different to" or "different from", but the now common American usage "different than" makes me wince.

And certainly it isn't hard to come up with some really revolting abuse; the other day, on a pompous American wildlife programme on the telly, I heard someone say "Domestic animals face challenges utterly unique than those presented to their wild cousins." But really - how often does this need to be said? - language changes. It doesn't get worse or better; it just changes. And the worst abuses spring not from pristine ignorance, but from some idiot who vaguely knows something about grammar and prefers to say "A friend has invited my wife and I to dinner" and who complains volubly about the rare and frankly abstruse question of the split infinitive. What's wrong with "nightmare"? It's a bit banal, I see that, but people pick it up and use it because it's a vivid word. Other targets of complaint were quite simply about the way the English language has always grown. If Tony Blair is wrong to shift the word "task" from one part of speech to another, then so is every great writer in English; when Shakespeare made Cleopatra say that she would be "window'd in great Rome", he didn't worry for a moment that the word "window" is now and ever shall be a noun, understanding that English structures are not the same as Latin ones.

The whole history of the English language is a history of the simplification of grammatical structures. English nouns used to have genders, like French; the accusative whom used to have a parallel form in which, and I dare say there were plenty of people around to complain that things were going to the dogs when it started to disappear. And I wonder if a lot of the targets of complaints here serve to identify the next stage of simplification. For instance, one respondent complained about the use of the expression "20 pound", saying that it was illiterate not to say "pounds". Well, perhaps for the moment it is, but it's already common in black and American speech for plurals to be dropped after a number, as in "Five bag".

God save us from self-appointed guardians of the language, whose strictures on correctness serve mainly to introduce spectacularly ludicrous new errors, who have a vague belief that it is somehow wrong to begin a sentence with "and" or end one with a preposition, who stand in the way of ordinary, vivid speech and writing. The users of English can look after it perfectly well. As for those maiden-auntish "rules" deriving from 18th-century Latin grammarians - well, frankly, I'm just bored of them.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on