Column: Oh, for the love of the English language

Newspapers are in many ways the guardians of language.

And I’m not saying this as a newspaper employee or as a defender of journalism. This comes from the readers, who many times are the first to point out an error of language that has found its way inside one our stories or headlines.

Our readers expect us to hold ourselves to the highest standards of spelling and grammar, and while we might falter from time to time, I for one am thankful for being held to such a lofty goal.

During my vacation two weeks ago, I had plenty of time to bone up on my knowledge of grammar and spelling. (In journalism, you never truly get away from work.)

While on the plane back to Chicago, I finished James Essinger’s “Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling,” and I’m in the middle of Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way.”

Who knew English came from such an interesting background? It’s essentially a mixture of German, Viking, French and Latin. Talk about your melting pot.

And this also is the reason why our spelling can be so confusing, why we have deceit and receipt or fancy and phantom.

It’s also amazing to me how one person could have such an effect on our language, especially grammar.

Split infinitives, those evil splitting of the verbs that create a grammatical bomb, aren’t truly as hated as we believe. One crazy English bloke who hated split infinitives ruined it for the rest of us, while most of his peers didn’t see a problem with them and thought he was a bit bonkers.

The same goes for using a preposition at the end of a sentence and other grammar no-nos that never have made the most sense because they go directly against how we speak. But rules are rules, and it’s our job to follow them. And you can help. See a mistake? Let us know. The English language will thank you.


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