Happy New Year!
2014 ended the way years always do: with fireworks, champagne, and a proliferation of “top ten” lists. I typically ignore these polls and countdowns, but there’s one that has continued to annoy me into the New Year. It’s NPR’s “Grammar Hall of Shame.”
As I tweeted on December 31st, which is known in our household as Mr. A.M.B.’s birthday:
Here’s the background: NPR asked its readers and listeners to let them know what “misused word or phrase” rankles them the most. The audience obliged, and NPR boiled the responses down to the top ten.
You can see the full list here. I agree with a few, but not these [… DRUMROLL, PLEASE…]:
10. Not answering “thank you” with “you’re welcome.” This one’s probably more about etiquette than grammar. But responses such as “no problem,” “sure” or “thank you” go against what many in the NPR audience say they were taught.
9. Saying someone “graduated college” instead of “graduated from college.” A college graduates a student, not the other way around. The “from” makes a big difference.
2. “So.” Please, please stop starting sentences with that word!
My two cents:
With #10, I’ll resist judging the respondents for misunderstanding the difference between etiquette and grammar. What I’m wondering is why anyone would be snobby enough to judge another person — a person who has done something helpful enough to warrant a “thank you” — because that person responded with a “sure” or “no problem.” That doesn’t sound like genuine gratitude to me.
With #9, NPR says “the ‘from’ makes a big difference” when someone says “graduated college” instead of “graduated from college.” Really? I think it makes no difference at all for the exact same reason: “a college graduates a student, not the other way around.” So, the meaning is clear either way. I find it hard to believe anyone who graduated college would not understand the meaning of this sentence.
As for #2, so why do I have to stop starting sentences with “so”? NPR doesn’t say in this article. From what I’ve gathered from other sources, language purists think that starting a sentence with a word that has traditionally been a midsentence conjunction “alienates audiences” by making the sentence seem rehearsed. Meh. I don’t think anyone should take it personally. It’s just the natural progression of language. “So” aids the transition from one sentence to another, like beginning a sentence with “however.”
As I wrote in The English Language Will Betray You (If You Let It),
The point is that the rules [of language] will change on us, whether we want them to or not, and people who make mistakes will only resent us if we correct them (not that I am a grammar expert). What may seem like a redundancy today may take on a meaningful nuance tomorrow as a result of changes in technology or usage.
I agree with C.S. Lewis: “there are no right or wrong answers about language.” Unless it’s your job to worry about other people’s grammar,* then just let it go.
One of my hopes for 2015 is that fewer amateur grammarians will try to demonstrate their superiority by imposing arbitrary or transitioning language rules on others.