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Why good grammar stands the test of time


I think I may have discovered a new hero:
Professor David Crystal, linguist and writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster.

Driving into work this morning, I tuned into BBC Radio Manchester’s Breakfast programme to find out what was happening in the region today.

Presenters Phil Trow and Alison Butterworth were encouraging listeners to contact them with details of their pet hates, on the subject of bad grammar. Listeners voiced their concerns about double negatives, sentences ending in prepositions and the use of the word ‘of’ instead of ‘have’ –  all of which have irritated me at some point over the years, despite the fact that I’m really a sunny, even tempered soul.

Warming to the subject matter, I didn’t change radio station at any point during my journey, as is my wont.  One listener complained about the use of ‘sat’ instead of ‘sitting’, which is one of my own bad grammar bugbears. It must be said that I was thoroughly enjoying the programme and revelling in the fact that my own personal gripes were shared by many of BBC Radio Manchester’s like-minded listeners.

 I spend far too much time boring my family and colleagues in equal measure, bemoaning the fact that so many Americanisms have entered our language and elegant, English phrases have disappeared from everyday conversation. I think my rush-hour drive would have been perfect if the BBC had posted photos of greengrocers’ windows featuring the words potatoe’s and tomatoe’s in window paint, with those reassuringly familiar rogue apostrophes.

I must admit that I was in danger of becoming a fully-fledged word nerd in the comfort of my own hatchback when the voice of reason, Professor Crystal, took to the airwaves.  Drawing on his  considerable knowledge of  the English language, he reminded us all that Shakespeare frequently used prepositions at the end of sentences and Chaucer’s English could offend the sensibilities of today’s ‘grammar police.’

In his warm and engaging manner, the eminent professor reminded us that English isn’t a dead language and therefore it is constantly evolving. He highlighted how the English language has changed since the advent of the internet and the widespread use of texting.  In just a few wise words David made me realise that embracing these changes was another reason to celebrate the English language in the 21st century.

Ever the anorak, I Googled Professor Crystal’s incredibly impressive biography  and  marvelled at his  contribution to English studies over the years. My family members find my obsession with the English language faintly amusing, but if they’re looking for a last minute stocking filler this Christmas,  then take a look at Professor Crystal’s bibliography for inspiration, lads.