Happy National Grammar Day, everyone! Needless to say, it is always grammar day around here, but I am glad all of you get to join in the fun once a year. If you click the link, you’ll find grammar day e-cards, a theme song, a recipe for the grammartini, an exposé of common grammar myths, and even merchandise!
From The New Criterion, here is a review of Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition. In the review, Barton Swaim discusses a reprint of Fowler’s first edition as a way of revisiting the ongoing debate between descriptivism and prescriptivism. Swaim argues, in effect, that prescriptivism is both inevitable and way more fun. We will always, in his view, go looking for expert opinion about our writing decisions. And those expert opinions will be more stimulating than the bland descriptivist work of academic linguists. I have no trouble with the view that prescriptivism is more entertaining and often more immediately satisfying. However, what Swaim’s highly dismissive account of descriptivism fails to take into account is the possibility that persistent exposure to descriptivism might actually change the way we approach questions of usage. That is, a dominant descriptivist view might discourage our belief that all educated writers should use language in only one way and that all deviance from that way is deficiency. It may be unsatisfying to be told that a particular usage will be acceptable to some readers and unacceptable to others, but that may be all we, as writers, can hope for: a sound description of current practice to help us make up our own minds.
From Inside Higher Ed, here is a review of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry). The review includes an interview with Vaidhyanathan, who offers a clear-eyed case that Google’s ubiquity is significant. If everyone gets their information via Google, it matters how Google’s search standards are constructed. Despite its title, the book is clearly less a condemnation of Google, more a call for greater public conservancy of the wealth of human knowledge; Vaidhyanathan is urging us to have a serious discussion about the responsibilities and risks of the digital scholarship era.