Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My adventures in the Law - Episode II

(The revenge of the grammarian)

I read this by Grammar Grouch, Ji'in.

I would just like to say:-

I am a Lawyer. We Lawyers are Big (not always literally, but some of the more affluent ones certainly are) and Very Important. We may do with grammar what we will.

To one of Ji'in's commenter's gripe with "irregardless": We like irregardless. We think adding the redundant "ir" makes us appear more Important and indicate that we know Big Words. We also like double negatives. We do not wish for our meaning to be clear, we prefer to mask our true meaning so that we may charge You more.

English is not my mother or father tongue. It is my second language. I learned English in classes segregated from the kids who spoke English at home / as a first language. My learning of English involved grammar lessons, and I rather liked them. I took to grammar, like I took to English. (Quickly, with joy and some perplexity). When I was older and could choose what I studied, I chose to study a Dead Language which was also much taken with grammar. I had so much fun in my Latin classes - not only because the class was small, we also brought food and drink, and giggled about Gladiator. You want to know about the subjunctive mood? If I told you, it would unecessarily elongate my post.

I like pedants who get all upset when people have misused grammar and punctuation. Pedants tend to use language exceptionally well - because they understand the rules. I am one of those pedants (I make no claims to whether I use language well) - but I also make mistakes. I still have difficulty with certain things - plurals and plural tenses I find confusing and jumble up when I speak and write. And, when I am writing blog posts and comments, I cannot proof-read very well. There is something about text on screen that seems to mask your mistakes. Sometimes I leave sentences incomplete, without a verb, without a final clause. It's a communication disaster!

When I started working as a lawyer, and even as a law student, the way law uses - and occassionally mangles - language alternately amused and angered me. I find amusing the desire for random capitalisation in the Law. Defined Words are Capitalised. Whenever I write letters and forget (oops, I was taught grammar, after all) to capitalise Important Words, my letters are invariably returned to me with pencil marks and circles before being signed by A Partner of the Firm. These little things do not worry me - they do not mask meaning - and a little self-aggrandisement does not really hurt anyone.

But sometimes, a misplaced or non-existent comma is the line between clarity and confusion. It's what we litigate about - using the rules of English more precisely might mean that we actually litigate the crux of a matter. Or it might not, because we are also petty.

What aggravates me is the misuse of verbs and nouns. Too frequently I see effect and affect interchanged. One affects an effect. One cannot effect an affect. There can be a very limited use of effect as a verb. Just be careful!

Grammar and punctuation exist for the clarity of communication. People who hide behind the argument that "language changes" do not realise that, although language can and should develop, it should develop in a way that continues to be comprehensible - not incomprehensible. Language is wonderful - all languages. It's great to be able to get an idea across to You and for you to understand Me. Just don't confuse me with dangling clauses, nouns where verbs should be and commas and apostrophes where they don't belong. I won't despise you but I will frown while reading - and you don't want to give me wrinkles, do you?


Ji-in said...

Oooh, Oanh, you are SO getting in trouble for those first two paragraphs! ^_^

Ah, but you redeemed yourself with the rest of your post. Lucky you!

OTT said...

ah yes, Ji-in, I was much tempted to stir trouble and raise ire in your comments but decided to do it here, in the safety of my own blog :-)

sume said...

Comma's have always been a problem for me. It's amazing how one misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Word isn't much help in that department. I can't believe I'm 36 years old and still have to google around for proper use of commas. I paid such close attention to my teachers in school, really I did.

sume said...

I meant "Commas". *rolls eyes

OTT said...

Apostrophes will also get you :-) It's a pity one can't edit one's comments - then we could all erase our little gaffes.

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