So What’s Up With NPR’s Thankless Listeners?

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:

NPR Tweet_December 31

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.


*Theo & Monica, editors like you get a free pass. 😉


  1. You had me laughing on this one. I was just reading through some genealogy notes I have that were written letters from the civil war between my 3 times great grandparents and it makes me wonder what they might have thought of how we write now!

  2. I’m pretty easy with our changing language. In fact you Americans have taken the mother tongue and simplified (for the better) much of the spelling and grammar. I mean, why say ‘a couple of…something’ when omitting the ‘of’ doesn’t affect the meaning? Why stick with ‘aluminium’ when ‘aluminum’ cannot be misconstrued?

    One Australian habit is creeping into Britain though, one which I dislike. The tendency, when debating or discussing a point, to begin a sentence with ‘Look,…’ That used to be looked upon as aggressive but now it’s becoming commonplace.

  3. This makes me chuckle. As an english major everyone assumed I’d be a huge grammar nazi. Other than someone using text-speak in an academic paper, I could care less. I’m guilty of all of those you listed, and I’ll admit I find myself editing out a lot of “so”s in my writing. I have to agree with Lewis here. I feel that as long as you communicate clearly and effectively, there shouldn’t be any complaints (as long as the errors aren’t distracting). As far as spoken language goes, it’s a hopeless battle for language purists.
    **Ironically, I grammar checked this comment more than I normally do- you made me self-conscious! 😉

  4. I think we are “beyond good grammar” with texts, social media and instant messaging fouling the waters. The spoken language will never be the same when a generation is now bent on speaking “text speak” in every situation (even to teachers too). So….

  5. LOL! Thanks for the mention.

    Starting sentences with “so” drives me nuts but only because I see it done so often in manuscripts. It’s as if language goes through phases, and not all of them are pleasant. 🙂 If it makes any difference, I also see a lot of dialog begin with “well” and “okay,” too. It’s the repetition that bugs me, not the word usage. Dialog should sound natural, but not mimic real life laziness 100 percent. In real life, we’re often boring. We should try not to mimic that in fiction. 😉

  6. I sometimes start my sentences with “so” on purpose! And “and” and “but”. But I didn’t realize I was annoying other people when I do that! 😀 Anyway, I think there’s a difference between writing for a personal blog and say, an essay. I try to write my blog in an informal way, as if I’m having a conversation with someone. It wasn’t very easy at first, actually.

  7. I have no problem with sentences beginning with “so” or whatever. I am passionate about I/me because the wrong one grates so badly. And as a proofreader, may I call your attention to the misspelling of the word “amateur” on the last paragraph. Or was that a joke?

      1. I don’t worry too much about the “rules.” When blogging, I often start sentences with “and” and “but.” It helps keep the sentences shorter–and, in my opinion, makes the writing seem more informal.

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