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English Usage GuidesHistory, Advice, Attitudes$
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Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198808206

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198808206.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.date: 19 May 2022

The usage game

The usage game

Catering to perverts

(p.177) 11 The usage game
English Usage Guides

Geoffrey K. Pullum

Oxford University Press

It would be rational to expect users of works on grammar and usage to want to be treated like adults, and given authoritative information to help make their minds up about controversial points of Standard English. In reality it doesn’t seem that way: the evidence suggests that they want to be berated and dominated, or even humiliated and disciplined. Judgemental compilations of fiercely stated but unmotivated prohibitions far outsell careful scholarship on usage. Usage guide authors face a dilemma: to go along with the public’s desires for harsh rulings seems like pandering to a masochistic perversion; yet offering evidence to refute false notions of correctness often leads to charges of lowering standards and promoting anarchy. The linguist who wants to avoid both horns of the dilemma is in an awkward position. Usage books might do better to simply omit some time-worn topics rather than perpetuate grammatical myths.

Keywords:   grammar style, mistakes, correctness, grammaticalness, prescriptivism, masochism

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