spellin and grammer

I have to admit that this little rant began concocting itself in my mind about a week ago, when I read Mikeachim’s recent post concerning a particular article on the BBC news site. What boggles me even more than this non-debate is the fact that the people who do get in a tizz about good grammar often don’t know what they are talking about.

Take, for example, the situation that occurred a few years ago where somebody discovered an old grammar rule concerning the use of the definite article. The rule basically states that one should use ‘an’ rather than ‘a’ when using a noun that begins with an ‘H’, such as ‘hospital’. All well and good when you’re writing it down. The problem is that it sounds wrong when you’re saying it aloud, especially given that the people who were being pedantic about it were the sort of people who carefully pronounce their ‘H’s. The rule harked back to a time that we have only left behind by a century or two when initial ‘H’s were not pronounced at all. I suspect that this has been the case since the Norman Invasion, given that the soft ‘H’ we use nowadays is a French influence and they drop their initial ‘H’s as a matter of course. The mass stupidity was only ended when this linguistic fact was pointed out in the House of Lords, along with the true rule that the use of ‘a’ or ‘an’ depends entirely on whether or not you pronounce the initial ‘H’.

Now the middle-class linguistic idiots are at it again and this time it’s so bad that the linguistic boffins at the BBC have let it filter to the news readers. The standard abbreviation of ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is WMD. Fine. We refer to such a weapon by it’s acronym all the time since the Iraq nonsense began. No problem. The term must have a plural, obviously, so the papers et alios referred to Iraq’s stockpile of WMDs.

Some fool then pointed out that that would surely imply that the term was abbreviating ‘weapon of mass destructions’, not ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The debate went on for a few weeks before the term W’sMD became the norm. Again this is a case of people trying to impose ‘proper’ grammatical rules without true understanding of how language works. Just like the fools responsible for my first example, they have taken written English grammar out of the context of the fact that writing represents a language as spoken. The fact of the matter is, at the point of abbreviation to an acronym, the acronym becomes a single word in its own right as far as English speech is concerned. This means that ‘WMD’ is one word and ‘WMDs’ is, therefore, its plural. Now could we please leave the linguistic debates to linguists rather than in the hands of a bunch of journalists with barely an A-level between them?

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~ by Scary Rob on 13 August, 2006.

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