We are regularly rebuked for one thing or another, from being too liberal to being too conservative; for having too much national news or, occasionally, for not having enough.
Thousands of readers will, we understand, have thousands of opinions, and we welcome and consider them all.
But we’d like to correct an errant rebuke we received recently from a reader for committing two supposed grammatical sins: ending a sentence with a preposition and beginning one with a conjunction.
“Well-known authors and the Sun Journal are guilty of doing that,” a letter-to-the-editor writer wrote.
It’s true. Guilty as charged.
The offended reader lamented that these examples of errors are becoming commonplace and accepted.
“If I’m wrong,” the writer asked, “someone out there will let me know.”
We waited a week, and no one did.
So, here goes: The writer is, as a matter of fact, wrong. These are two of the most commonly uncorrected fallacies in English usage.
In their book, Origins of the Specious,” Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman try to divine the origins of these and other grammatical myths.
They say many of these bogus rules were “concocted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by overzealous Latinists in a misguided attempt to force English to play by the rules of Latin.”
English, however, is a Germanic language, not a Romance language.
Trying to make English behave like Latin is like “having the Chicago Cubs play by the same rules as the Green Bay Packers.”
Among the myths:
Never split an infinitive: …”to boldly go where no man has gone before,” are the familiar opening lines from Star Trek.
“To” and “go” are split by “boldly.” The prohibition against doing so is entirely artificial, according to O’Conner and Kellerman.
Ditto for ending a sentence with a preposition: “Is this the table you ate on?” Or, “Is this the table upon which you ate?”
In most cases, it matters not.
The rule is attributed to John Dryden who, in 1672, issued an essay blistering Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and other early writers for this supposed offense.
Of course, his insistence on the Latin word order meant that Chaucer, Milton and the King James version of the Bible were full of grammatical errors.
Grammar historians have now dismissed Dryden’s objections and placed a pox upon his memory.
And that leaves us the final myth, the practice of beginning a sentence (like this one) with a conjunction.
O’Conner and Kellerman have no direct evidence of who started this one. They theorize, however, that it is the natural first tendency of small children to connect sentences with “and.”
You can almost hear a child talking this way, if you stop and think about it.
“And then Mommy stopped the car. And Mommy got angry. And then Mommy said a bad word.”
The writers suggest school teachers became so weary of hearing kids talk and write this way— and were so eager to break the little cretins of the habit — that they simply forbade the practice.
Thus a rule was born: Never start a sentence with a conjunction! No, never ever. Never ever again.
Children are impressed by such rules and it stuck.
Here’s the current best advice on the subject: It’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction, just do so sparingly and for a particular effect.
And that’s just plain good writing advice in general, to mix things up and not use any single writing device in excess.
So, those are a few myths.
If you still doubt, snuggle up to a computer and Google away. If we’re wrong, someone out there will let us know.