Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Letters to the editor

Do you read the Letters to the Editor columns in books and magazines? I do. They’re like the comment threads found on blog posts and online articles. I read them to find out what other people think. 

The recent letters page (they call it "Discussion") I found to be incredibly interesting was that of the March 2013 issue of Smithsonian. The comments stemmed from the February 2013 essay titled Write and Wrong.  In it, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, both former New York Times editors, state that many writers follow some phony grammar rules that stem from “ … misguided Latinists who tried to impose the rules of their favorite language on English.” 

They claim that several rules are actually myths, including the ones that state it is incorrect to end sentences with prepositions, begin sentences with conjunctions, and split infinitives. The myth about prepositions comes from a 1792 book titled A Short Introduction to English Grammar, by Anglican Bishop Robert Lowth, and the one about splitting infinitives comes from an 1864 book titled A Plea for the Queen’s English, by Henry Alford.  And they argue that conjunctions are “ … legitimately used to join words, phrases, clauses, sentences—and even paragraphs.” 

My favorite part about this controversy is that this essay received the most response for the issue, and had some readers “riled and other relieved.” Regardless of whether you believe these grammar rules are fact or fiction, I’m happy that the Grammar Police are alive and well. I love that there is a debate regarding the English language outside the classroom. I love that other people care about this. And I especially love (and hope) that Smithsonian may be more open to running essays or articles similar to this in the future, because their readers care enough to comment.

Write soon,


  1. Hi Mary! I saw something about this article on someone's blog....Hmmm...Well, at least it made an impact on me! :)
    I thought it was interesting, too.
    And thanks for stopping and commenting on my blog!

  2. Very interesting blog post this morning!I always wondered about that preposition rule!

  3. I've been wondering a lot lately about these "rules" that we follow, and am conflicted!

  4. I'm guilty of all three grammar crimes, and like you, Mary, I'm conflicted. I believe if the writing is crisp and clear and the grammar tics are part of a writer's voice, I think it's okay to bend the rules.