Tag Archives: English

Do You Use ‘Alot’ A Lot?

Hopefully you realized there were two spelling of ‘a lot’ up there in my title, and hopefully you also realized one of them was not grammatically correct. Why not grammatically correct, you ask? I don’t know – the spaces lobby argued we should all use the space bar on our keyboards more often?

That is why I was SO HAPPY to see someone finally speak up in defense of ‘alot’. James Harbeck argued today in Slate that just like ‘ahold’ and ‘awhile’ were finally somewhat accepted in English, ‘alot’ is likely here to stay. Whether it’s official or not, whether grammarians screech or not, likely enough people will keep using it until it’s finally accepted.

Wait, I’m not saying I use it – not in my public writing at least. I know pulling it out would brand me as a know-nothing hack. People on the internet would pretend I was talking about a furry animal, rather than an understandable word ( The link in the last sentence goes to a rather amusing piece by Hyperbole and a Half which rails against ‘alot’ – the Slate piece linked to it too, but I remember reading it back when it was first published and wishing I could come up with a good enough retort. But really, it’s cute enough that I can let it slide…)…

But oh, wouldn’t it be nice to skip typing that space. Why, oh why, should ‘a lot’ be two words? Using ‘alot’ doesn’t wreck anything about the English language. It’s simple and understandable, and the only thing holding it back is that it’s nonstandard.

 

So here’s to hoping in fifty years or so my arthritic hands will be typing ‘alot’, a lot.

 

See also: Rant on “Ruining the English Language” and What, the English Language Changes? Literally?

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Rant on “Ruining the English Language”

All those crazy kids on the internet, jibbering in text speak and handing in essays with hashtags in them, are a menace to the venerable old mother tongue, the tongue we all speak and most of the world speaks… a language known as English. A respected language that is beginning its slow slide into decline, because of the ignorance of grammar, complete unawareness of sentence structure, and the mangling of words. When “lol” is used commonly by the masses, is it not a sign of society’s decay?

Wait, wait, wait, back up a moment. Is anyone seriously nodding along here?

This is the worst kind of paranoia, technophobia – nostalgia for a past world where grammar teachers stared down through their spectacles at you and made you write “do not end a sentence with a preposition” fifty time on the blackboard.

How on earth is the internet ruining English? Just because English might possibly turn out to be different? Just because it might follow a different set of rules than the archaic ones you grew up with, the language is ruined? What, you really think the language they used fifty years ago was orderly and rational, and, thus, worth keeping?

Look, the internet understands each other. We might type LOL, and TTYL (which are ancient abbreviations in internet time by now, by the way), and make jokes referring to memes (“In a CAVE. With a box of SCRAPS!”), but do you think in the least that we don’t understand each other? Or, that, because you have lost all ability to understand us, the words we use should be regarded with scorn and disgust? If we want to use new words – make up new words, throw useless grammar rules out the window, try out new grammar rules and see if we can’t have fun bending the rules inside-out – why should we be barred from doing with English what English has always done – evolve?

Why should our tech-obsessed crowd be barred from something tech does so incredibly well – create?

Oh, but we won’t be able to get jobs. We won’t know the proper place to use text speak, and we might use it in places where the established rules for centuries has dictated that we write in complete sentences, with subjects and predicates. We might look stupid, because we veered too far away from being formal.

Fine, you can clearly see I’m willing to bend. I can spout out as many paragraphs of the most sleep-inducing, formal, mostly-grammatical-correct writing as you could require. I’ve always BELIEVED in writing so others can understand, and if the other does not want to be presented with the language of the internet at a certain point in time, I will refrain from using it. I adapt. I change my tone of voice depending on the context and circumstances.

But if other people don’t, will the pillars of our society come crumbling down?

If you hired someone who described themselves as “social media savvy,” would it inevitably mean that person will be unable to cope with the job?

Because people use emoticons, or decide not to capitalize words, does that in fact mean they are functionally illiterate? Even when others understand them?

Let’s stop wailing about the decline of English. Let’s stop pretending young people don’t know how to communicate, just because they communicate in a different way. Let’s not always act as if the sky is falling down.

English will change. It might look a little more chaotic, or maybe it will just find a new set of rules. Either way, it’ll survive. It lasted for hundreds of years without any standardized spellings of any words. And life went on.

Relax. We’ll survive.

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Against Grammar – and Other Rules of English

“Why can’t the English learn to speak?”

         Henry Higgins, from My Fair Lady

 I’ve been scaring all my friends lately by ranting on about grammar and how much I hate it. They come to me with concerned looks and say, “But doesn’t grammar help you understand what other people are saying?” And I tell them, “Well, that’s where it should stop. Once you understand a person, it doesn’t matter how they said it.”

Why do I sound this extreme? (And, admittedly, I am not this extreme at heart, because the misuse of ‘your/you’re’ does annoy me.) I puzzled over this fact for a while. I’m the sort of person who loves learning new words, and easily can remember the official rules for using ‘who’s’ and ‘whose’ – and even the more obscure facts such as ‘peruse’ originally meant to read carefully, not skim. So why would I hate language rules?

Because I hate how knowledge of English language rules can be used to bully people.

Are You a Language Bully?” asks Matthew J.X. Malady at Slate, underlining my point that people often use language rules to shame each other, show off over each other, and to feel superior to each other.

He restricts this bullying to obscure language rules, but I know how even rules ‘everyone should know’ can be used as weapons. How someone can pointedly and clearly fire a criticism at someone else, and be met with, “I don’t think you know what ‘literally’ actually means…”

Maybe it’s because I volunteer to teach ESL, or because I live in a country where I meet immigrants daily, or because my mother and grandparents and so many members of my own community were immigrants themselves. Maybe it’s because I’ve travelled and know what it’s like not to know ‘the rules.’ I see how the inability to communicate holds people back, and once they gain that ability to communicate, the fear of others still keeps them quiet.

Language should be democratic. If we have freedom of speech, we should also have freedom of speaking without being held back by nerves or fear of others. If people can’t understand us – well then, that’s our problem, and maybe we should go back and rephrase things. But if we made a point, why dismiss it because of how it’s phrased?

Knowing how to use English ‘properly’ tells other people you’re well educated, but, more sinisterly, it also indicates wealth and social class. Certain accents and words (like “ain’t”) are looked down on and shunned, and children are repeatedly taught not to use them, even though almost every English speaker in the world can understand the word “ain’t.” (Sorry, I always loved that word). Why words and sentences become “proper” English, while other words become “slang” – well, it often depends on who uses them. It also depends on time and how words change over time, but I hate, hate, hate how perfectly clear language can be looked down on. How the underlying message to enforcing language rules can be: “Only the elite should be listened to.”

Whoa, so I’m ranting again. Let’s narrow this down to how this should play out in the real world – since I don’t actually believe we should throw out all the English language rules out tomorrow. Keep the one that are useful, thank you.

I think good writers are able to recognize a powerful expression, and the truth that shines through the words, no matter how it’s phrased – like Mark Twain did in Huckleberry Finn. Use whatever combination of words you need to get the message across. Linguists can go on doing wonderful studies of how people actually use language, and where ideas about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ language come from. And English teachers (by this I mean the poor souls who have to teach grammar and spelling and the difference between a ‘subject’ and a ‘predicate’) can limit themselves to teaching our kids, and being quiet when nobody follows the rules.

And we can all help each other speak clearly and understandably, while leaving behind the judgemental worries about the disintegration of the English language.

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