Recent days have got me wondering how questions of usage should be settled. Is this a well-established issue on the forum, so that I can just be directed to the record of that discussion? I sought but I did not find.
I think that a lot of the possible arguments would fall into four categories: (1) technical distinctions, the jargon of language, and language authorities, (2) quotations of good writers, (3) logical justifications (such as the avoidance of ambiguity), and (4) our own private sensibilites about how the language is usually used. I think that my own ear is usually my final arbiter. I don’t think that I would follow advice that sounded wrong to me, unless I was writing for a course that required MLA Handbook style, or a publication that followed the Chicago Manual of Style, or something like that.
But I notice that lots of other people, with reputations in the tens of thousands, spend their lives in the first category: technical distinctions, the jargon of language, and language authorities. They just write in what I should probably not term “grammatical mumbo jumbo.” They use lots of words for different parts of speech that I never heard about in School House Rock. And they don’t cite writers. To judge from Hank’s fabulous edit of my recent post, the omission of almost all citations makes a post much better.
Why is that? I hope I don’t hurt any feelings (or precipitate another analysis of hurt feelings), but the suggestions that grammaticality hinges on the mass/count and singular/plural distinctions on the noun, and the classing of words as adjectives or determiners, and whether they can be modified by adverbs or adjectives or not at all, whether rules for pre-modification of determiners were explored in classical grammars, all got me nowhere. How do you know that eloquent people really do what those rules suggest? How do you know that those rules are really helpful? Why should we follow those rules?
To me, this first category is the weakest, while quotations of good writers seem an almost unanswerable argument: just look. That’s why I usually try to cite good writers in my posts to the main forum. Their words illustrate well-crafted English.
So why am I so out-of-step with the dominant culture here, where sensibilities are obviously the opposite of my own?