Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Superstitions (1)

 Today: Generally. In 1926, H.W. Fowler used the term “superstitions” to describe, in the field of writing, “unintelligent applications of an unintelligent dogma” (Modern English Usage 586 [1st ed.]). Experts in usage have long railed against them as arrant nonsense, yet they retain a firm grip — if not a stranglehold — on the average person’s mind when it comes to putting words on paper. Indeed, these superstitions are bred in the classrooms in which children and adolescents learn to write. These superstitions are treated in Garner’s Modern American Usage, in the entry to which the reader is referred at the end of each subentry here. For additional perspectives on these points, we’ll examine brief statements by respected authorities on style, grammar, and usage in the coming days. “Never End a Sentence with a Preposition.” “The origin of the misguided rule is not hard to ascertain. To begin with, there is the meaning of the word ‘preposition’ itself: stand before. The meaning derives from Latin, and in the Latin language prepositions do usually stand before the words they govern. But Latin is not English. In English prepositions have been used as terminal words in a sentence since the days of Chaucer, and in that position they are completely idiomatic.” Theodore M. Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins 177 (1971). See GMAU, “Prepositions (B).” Next: “Never Split an Infinitive.” For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Ending a sentence with a preposition can be as dangerous as stepping on a crack in a sidewalk.” Allan Metcalf, “Double or Nothing: An End to Final Prepositions,” 62 Am. Speech 182, 182 (1987).
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