An Odd Little Grammar Thing

I was reading a blog for Web designers this morning and I came across this little gem:

… there will be no performance affection due to…

which was intended to mean “… performance will not be affected by…” My handy dictionary labels the above use of affection as archaic (I was surprised it even got that much respect), and I wouldn’t use it in any sort of serious writing.

The thing is, I like it. It’s one of those things that, on a special occasion, I might want to pull out and use. (You have to admit, it’s pretty funny.) In my book it’s perfectly all right to break the rules of grammar if you do it on purpose. So remember when you read my occasional bad-grammar rant, or the rant of any other hard-ass, that rules are made to be broken—but when you break them, know why. Even the hard-asses will smile if you do it well.

8 thoughts on “An Odd Little Grammar Thing

  1. It is interesting how far some people will go to avoid the dreaded passive voice, even when that is really the best way to construct a sentence. This writer has chosen to use an expletive construction, which is generally even less effective language. Sigh.

  2. Yeah, I hate that grammar checker. I routinely give my students an article about a college professor (in the Seattle area, no less), who was in the process of suing Microsoft over how lousy that grammar checker was.

    It’s sort of OK for people who already have a good grasp of grammar, since those people can look at their sentences and see whether they’re all right. It’s utterly useless for English language learners and developmental students, because those students don’t have the wherewithal to determine whether the computer is right. They just make changes at random until the green and orange squiggly underlines disappear, and then they think they have everything right. So a student who has written “definately” when she meant “definitely” will be told that what she should say is “defiantly.” And some of the grammar flags lead the students to produce utterly indecipherable sentences, especially those students whose first language is something other than English. They just make changes at random until the underlines disappear.

    I had a student this past term whose first language was Ga-Adangbey, and whose second language was French, and the grammar checker was worse for her than if she’d just written her papers in French — but even if the grammar checker had been switched to French, it wouldn’t have produced correct grammar. And even if Microsoft chose to produce a grammar checker in Ga-Adangbey, I don’t think it would be all that useful.

  3. But let’s be honest: in today’s high tech, connected world, don’t we all have performance affection? I know I do. Sometimes it manifests as performance envy, and occasionally as performance anxiety.

  4. Sometimes it feels oh so clever to break the rules — but is the reader delighted by that bit of cleverness or just annoyed? Mostly people want their communication easy, understandable, and predictable. Every now and they’re motivated to want it clever, surprising, or mind-bending. Some of that motivation can come from whatever literary capital the author has built with the reader up to the current point of their relationship.

  5. Had to dig thru the archives to find when you last touched on grammar, because I found this on another blog, and wanted to share. It is only barely related to your post, but is interesting and about grammar!

    A commenter writes:

    Well it could be worse. I hazard that in 50 years the sex sensitivities of the colloquial speaker will have caused the formal replacement of the generic singular pronoun (he) with the plural pronoun (they), which is safely without gender. Already constructions like these are ubiquitous among high-school age writers, and sanctioned by their teachers:

    Everyone must choose their own path.

    Each student selects their thesis topic.

    Note in the second example the jarring (I hope!) juxtaposition of the singular verb with the plural pronoun. This is the future.

    Buddy, you don’t know the half of it! Not only are high-school age writers being taught this by teachers, they are even taught this by some other writers (who must obviously be misguided hacks, given how badly they’re abusing the English language). Some examples from some of these awful people — to avoid unduly embarrassing them, we’ll call them William S., Jane A., W.H. A., Jonathan S., William Makepeace T.,

    And every one to rest themselves betake

    I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly

    … it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy

    Who makes you their confidant?

    … every fool can do as they’re bid

    A person can’t help their birth

    There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me
    As if I were their well-acquainted friend

    (All sources are from the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, where the full names of these miscreants are revealed.)

    So, commenters, is it that all these writers (whose work ranges from the late 1500s to the 1900s) and many more were wrong, and you’re right, when you say that “their” can’t be used in these contexts? Is it that you have the Logic of the Language on your side — the same logic that tolerates the singular “you are,” “aren’t I?,” “ice cream,” and much more, but that as a matter of the laws of logic balks at a singular “they”? Or is it just that you’re discussing what you find aesthetically pleasing (or even pedagogically optimal, for instance with an eye towards teaching students usage that will satisfy self-described “purists” and will thus serve them well socially)? If it’s the latter, I’ll happily end the debate. But my sense is that many people who denounce the singular “they” (including where the singular relates to nouns with a collective meaning, such as “everyone”) and similar matters are making an assertion about correctness, and not just about their own tastes or about the most useful teaching approaches.

    • Very interesting. just last night I decided it was OK to use a singular ‘they’ in a couple of places, mainly because in dialog grammar rules are necessarily relaxed for authenticity. But grammar rules should follow the way the language is actually used, shouldn’t they? Perhaps my dialog is more grammatically true than my narration, as it is not encumbered with artificial rules. (My narration this November plays pretty fast and loose with grammar as well, so maybe this isn’t the best example.)

      In any case, I’ll feel more relaxed about my use of ‘they’ in the future.

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