Our Grammar is a’changin’

DictionaryLanguage does change over time. Sort of an ever-evolving thing, language changes become “acceptable” through usage; Whether we like it or not.

For instance, when I was growing up, I often heard an elder tell me, “Ain’t isn’t in the dictionary, young lady.”

But it is, today. The fact is that “ain’t”  is a word used so often that it now resides in the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster as well as most others.

According to the OED public information, approximately 90 new words will be added to the dictionary this month. Many represent updates of words not updated in more than 90 years, such as white, ear and earning. How about lookalike? Or XL? Or white stuff? Watch out Scrabble players everywhere!

But I’m here to tell you that ALL RIGHT is still two words. Yes indeed. It is NOT alright–it is all right. No matter how often editors allow it or writers write it, this word has not been officially changed. Yes, I often hear about how I’m archaic and out of touch about this. Sorry. I’m an editor, though admittedly, not a copy editor. But why give an editor or agent an excuse to kill your manuscript? Seems a bit foolish to me, but to each his or her own.

English is an often clumsy language with rules that contradict other rules. We make the best of its shortcomings which means that we have to learn the exceptions as well as the rules. And learn how to write in such a way that we don’t break too many of those “rules.”

I’m a content editor, which means, essentially, when I read through a manuscript, I’m looking for character development, plot development and story flow, things like that. But, my mother was an English teacher and I can tell you, some of those lessons are unforgettable. And I’ve been reading books since I was four years old, so that’s a LONG time! Something that impacts content is meaning. Writers have to use the right word to convey the right message. The purpose should be to convey it with interest and clarity in my opinion.

The use of the singular they is becoming acceptable and more popular and I, for one, am relieved to see it. Working in fiction, the use of his or her isn’t usually a complex task. The point of view character will probably be one or the other gender, and so, use of the pronoun he, she, his or hers will be quite evident.

But in non-fiction work, now that we’ve become a world that is very gender sensitive, the dilemma of being politically correct by offering the he or she option in every sentence will drive a reader insane. So, even though I am writing about ONE person in my piece, it is far easier on the reader to read they instead of he or she.

For example:

Every student has completed his or her school year and he or she will now be faced with the decision of what college to attend or what career choice will fit best. OR ….

Every student has completed his or her school year and they are now faced with the decision….

Now another solution to the use of the singular they is to write around the need for its use. For example:

The students have each completed their school year and will now be faced with making the decision of what college to attend or….

My recommendation? Always write the clearest, most powerful sentence that you can, no matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction. But if the quickest way to resolving a clumsy sentence is to use a singular they, then by all means do it and move on. Just use it as sparingly as possible.

Ah–remember that “rule” about ending sentences with a preposition? It’s not a rule at all!

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About NL Quatrano

Award-winning author, speaker, editor and ghost writer, Nancy owns a full-time editing, writing and specialty publishing business: On-Target Words/WC Publishing. Volunteer/member of professional writing organizations including Florida Writers Assoc., Sisters in Crime, and AWAI. 2010 Professional Woman of the Year by the NAPW. Linked in Editor Pick May 2013. International Women's Leadership Association nominee for Outstanding Leadership 2014.
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