Phew. Turns out fucking up my posts here daily means I’m a marginalized freedom-fighter. I just knew I was cooler than I suspected. So where’s the tshirt with my face on it? Salon says the grammar police should like totally back the hell off, man.
To protests that the language police are only protecting the accuracy, precision and clarity of our tongue, Lynch lifts a skeptical eyebrow. Many of the most roundly deplored “debasements” of English are nevertheless perfectly comprehensible: I didn’t confuse you by writing “Ain’t it the truth?” in my opening paragraph, did I? The only truly unbreakable rules of grammar and usage are the ones that, when broken, result in a genuine failure to communicate. The rest is a form of covert class warfare, and today’s usage reproofs constitute a status-protecting thump on the head delivered by the upper middle class to uppity members of the lower middle.
Thinking of the grammar wars in this light helps explain why they provoke such rage. Much as some people might detest seeing the noun “impact” used as a verb, if a lot of people say it and almost everybody understands it when it’s said, then a coup has been effected. The “verbing” of nouns (or the creation of “nerbs”) has been a flashpoint for the past four or five decades with the growth of business management lingo. Complaints about this point to a particularly American social fissure: between the cultured sensibility of the liberally educated and the can-do utilitarianism of striving MBAs.