LawProse Lesson #336: The real reason for English usage.

LawProse Lesson #336: The real reason for English usage.

Why should it matter whether you say with regard to or *with regards to? (The asterisk indicates nonstandard English.) Anyway or *anywaysWe have a way to go or *We have a ways to goCouldn’t care less or *could care lessRegardless or *irregardless?

Either way, everybody knows what you mean.

It’s just that one expression typifies educated English, and the other typifies uneducated English. That’s right. The asterisked versions prompt educated speakers of English to wonder where you went to school, and why you don’t use the educated form—especially if you’re in a situation in which you’re expected to speak Standard English.

In other words, a bit of Henry Higgins lives in us all. It’s inescapable—whatever your native language may be.

The late Professor John W. Velz of the University of Texas summed it up well: “The real reason for good usage in writing is that if you don’t achieve it, your educated reader will be thinking of you, not of the point you’re trying to make.”

Or you could forget that. People can figure out what you mean. Whatever. Right? Don’t make no difference. “It don’t matter to me,” as the song by Bread proclaimed in 1969. And maybe it don’t matter to nobody else—including the judge reviewing your work.

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