Is grammar overrated?


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Is grammar overrated? British actor and author Stephen Fry certainly thinks so, as he eloquently points out in a famous kinetic type video (which you can watch above). Writer and lexicographic researcher Ammon Shea agrees with him and argues that relaxed usage isn't stupider, and actually has the potential to be literally impactful. He outlined his case for bad grammar in a new book, Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation and recently stopped by CBC Radio's The Current to talk about it:


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Shea became intrigued by the war on grammar while doing a media tour for his last book Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (yes, he read the entire Oxford English dictionary in one year to write that book). He found himself repeatedly using the term "stupider" in interviews, because that's how he felt reading the dictionary. This caused many people to write to Shea to say they couldn't take him seriously as an expert on language ever again, thanks to his use of stupider. "I was really befuddled by this. I honestly never knew that stupider was, apparently, not a word."

So he looked into it and discovered that the reasons stupider isn't a word are, well, stupid. "We've all gotten together and said that stupider is a bad word and anybody who uses it must be a stupid person," he said. And, as he dug further into his grammar research, he realized this reasoning was used for whole bunch of grammar rules. "An enormous number of the rules we adhere to are really just capricious."

That said, Shea loves the discussion around language. "It's great that people are so passionate about language," he said. But Shea thinks people need to engage in a more positive discussion when it comes to language and its evolution. "It's absolutely true that people so often focus on denigrating the language use of others instead of celebrating it and I think that's quite a shame."

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