Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rules for Writers

Seen this before, especially in high school English classes where I was accused of breaking all of these and worse. Point I want to make is this: language, as a communication medium, is functionally defined. That is, the way people speak to each other defines what is "correct". If I attempt to convey some meaning and you receive that meaning, we have used language correctly regardless of adherence to any arbitrary rules of grammar or conventional definitions.

Why do we have grammar then? They provide basic structural guidelines and ease confusion, much as traffic signs help us drive safely on the freeways. Unlike traffic laws, however, language is a fluid, continually evolving thing. A language is either alive, and therefore changing, or static and dead.

Where do these rules come from then? Many are hold-overs from some imagined "Golden Age" of civilization. Many are based on the rules for proper ancient Latin and Greek, because grammar always translates so well. They were created by scholars and academicians. "Gee," they thought, "wouldn't it be great if we were all as smart, educated, and proper as those ancient philosophers? To achieve this, we should force everyone to speak the way they did." The result is many of these "rules" sound foolish; some are still good ideas, others are completely outdated, and none are permanent, universal, unchangeable law.

Get the connection to religion?


1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
23. DO NOT use exclamation points and all caps to emphasize!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shaking ideas.
26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
27. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
31. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
32. Who needs rhetorical questions?
33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
34. The passive voice should never be used.
36. Do not put statements in the negative form.
37. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
38. A writer must not shift your point of view.
39. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
40. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
41. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
42. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
43. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
44. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
45. Always pick on the correct idiom.
46. The adverb always follows the verb.
47. Be careful to use the rite homonym. And Finally...
47. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to picking up "Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language" by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman -- which addresses these "rules" of grammar, which are clearly not rules of spoken English.