How good is your grammar? In this wise and witty book, John Sutherland poses this infinitely fascinating question, and puts us all on the spot in the most illuminating and enriching way.
Full of tests and quizzes, How Good is Your Grammar? is not a rule book (a 'primer') although the author lays down a set of 'Queensberry Rules' (he is, after all, a professor), before getting on to the interesting stuff.
And interesting it is. How much does it matter, for example, that for purists 'Telephone' is ungrammatical, 'Television' grammatical? How grammatically disastrous was the 42nd President's proclamation to the world, 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman'?* Does it matter that USS Enterprise resolves to boldly go at warp speed through the split infinitive?
Is text ('txt', 'textese') linguistic barbarism, or a fascinating test-tube example of how grammar adapts to new technological environments? Could the computer have evolved to where it is, today, without a 'grammatical' (Boolean) mathematical / algebraic system of operators (not 'x=y', but 'if this then that')?
Elsewhere 'bad' grammar, as text-books define it, is a creative necessity. Poetry is the graveyard of grammar (think E E Cummings) and popular music dances merrily on grammar's grave ('I feel good!' - surely 'well', James?). Is Dylan's 'Lay, Lady, Lay' an offence to grammar? (No, if you think about it carefully).
* Television has two Greek root words, and is therefore grammatical. Telephone has a Greek and Latin root word - a grammatical no-no. For those, that is, who care about such things. Clinton's 'that woman' allows the possibility there were other women.
John - Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus, UCL - is the author of over 30 works of scholarship and is a well known journalist who writes, regularly, for the London and New York Times, the Guardian and many places else (spot the solecism).
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