Thoughtful writing goes beyond negative grammar “rules”

Yesterday I posted about how I sometimes let my Random Capitalization Syndrome shine through. “For me, the key is to know when it’s appropriate to unleash my RCS,” I explained, citing texts, personal emails, and Facebook posts as better venues for it than official publications and other formal contexts.

Then I found a great post in The Chronicle’s Lingua Franca blog by Geoffrey Pullum that fantastically echoed my message. Most grammar advice is framed as an absolute “don’t-do-this-don’t-do-that brand of usage bullying.” Instead, writers “need answers to open interrogatives about when to do what, and why, and how.” So it’s not that RCS should always be banned, it just needs to be used in the right place and time. Same goes for other “rules” like not ending sentences with a preposition.

As Pullum eloquently put it, “You have to steer between the Scylla of sounding like a tweet by an excited high-schooler and the Charybdis of sounding like a great-grandfather in a starched collar.” A good editor will help you do just that to produce a final product that’s appropriate for its intended context. We spend a lot of time thinking about when, how, and why to do the whats of grammar.


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