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Grammar is not mandatory, it’s positioning

Posted by John Reed on

I denounce grammar “rules” in my book How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book. There are no grammar rules.

How To Write, Publish, & Sell Your Own How-To Book

Here is a passage from page 26 of the 2015 book The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley:

There is a good parallel with teachers of grammar, who do little more than codify the patterns they see in everyday speech and tell them back to us as rules. Indeed, grammarians spend most of their time deploring linguistic innovation. [Ridley’s book is about how good innovation happens.]

‘Whom’ or ‘who’?

For example, take the word “whom.” Grammarians say you say “whom” when it refers to a person that something is being done to or for. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” is correct use of whom because of the word “for.”

I read that men who use the word “whom” in their profile attract more women that those who say “who” where whom is the “correct” usage in dating web sites.

To convey information about the speaker’s or writer’s literacy

That goes to my position on grammar which I cover in my chapter on “How to write” in the book. Its purpose to to reveal things like education, intelligence, aristocracy, pedantry. The women who prefer “whom” users are seeking wealthy, classy, educated, smart guys. They figure using “whom” is evidence of those qualities. It probably is. 

The purpose of language is to communicate thoughts. “Ask not for who the bells tolls” communicates. Using “whom” conveys that you are literate, but that is a side issue to the thought in question.

Language is bottom up

Except for France and Quebec, language is a bottom-up thing. The mass of people create language and modify it. Some “leaders” try to control it. For example, the 1980 book Free to Choose is about free markets and competition. Since then, the word “choose” has been kidnapped by the left and assigned to be a euphemism for abortion.

Language is determined by its users and no one among the users outranks any others. You can use whatever grammar you want as long as it gets the message across. The only reason to choose, say, “whom” over “who” is to convey the education and literacy of the speaker.

Speed bumps

This is a form of what I call speed bumps. You should write to express, not to impress. In some contexts, like a hip-hop song, the word “whom” “properly” used will serve as a speed bump that suddenly distracts the listener or reader and causes them to stop focusing on the theme of the song and wonder why the author used the word instead of “who.”

No weeds

It’s like my admonition in my Succeeding book not to be a weed.

Succeeding bookThere is nothing wrong with “who” in a hip-hop song even when it is the object of a verb or preposition, but there is something wrong with it in a Supreme Court opinion where it is the object of a verb or preposition.

“Whom” in a hip-hop song is a speed bump and so is “who” as the object of a verb or preposition in a Supreme Court opinion. A weed is neither good nor bad. Context decides. An ivy plant in the lawn is a weed. But an ivy plant in an ivy patch of ground cover is not a weed. And a blade of grass is not a weed in the lawn, but it is in the ivy ground cover patch.

Whom is not a better, higher class word than who when it is not the object of a verb or preposition. For example, if you write “Whom wrote this,” you not only sound uneducated, you sound like you’re trying to be some sort of faux aristocrat.

MY grammar rule is simple: no speed bumps in your writing.

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