Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Memo from The Ministry of Grammar

"Now I knew whom to look for."

Consider this sentence. Now unleash upon it the best Two Minutes Hate you can muster. Sentences like this one are a scourge on society. They should be expunged.

What could possess a writer to defiantly toss aside one grammatical rule only to bow down in pitiful subservience to another? Everyone knows you must not end a sentence with a preposition. Yet this author has done it without shame. And I don't blame him. I've heard the terminal preposition rule is going by the wayside; I've read style guides by copy editors (Line by Line by Claire Kehrwald Cook) claiming that virtually no one cares too much any more about the position of the preposition. It wouldn't make much sense to do so, considering the abundance of verbs that make no sense without the preposition on their tail end: hang out, give in, give up, pick up, throw up, put up with (Winston Churchill once made a point about the silliness of this rule when he allegedly wrote, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put").

And in a reasonably hard-boiled detective story, it would be counterproductive to have the main character mince daintily around his sentences just when he needs to sound tough and confident.

So why, then, does the author not also do away with the awkward "whom?" This letter M followed by a T is a stumbling block. It sounds weak. It slows you down. Aside from its detrimental effect on the flow of the sentence, it's just plain unbelievable. No one, not even a doctor of psychology, talks like that! Listen: "Now I knew who I was looking for." That's what I call tough and confident. That's what I call real.

The moral of this memo is, if you are going to break grammatical rules, do it all the way! Don't spoil the effect by submitting to other, equally irrelevant rules! Be strong! Be a grammatical renegade! Power to the --

Oops. I just realized I spent another post talking about something that's hardly of universal interest. I think I'm 0 for 5. Sorry, I'll try to do better next time. But in case you were curious, today's featured sentence came from Therapy, by Jonathan Kellerman.


Anonymous said...

I found this post very interesting. I can't wait to find people to show this to. :)