Sunday, June 17, 2007

The perils of grammatical celebrity

For better or for words, Grammar Girl is one of the most popular educational podcasts, and Technorati ranks it as about the 4000th most popular blog (roughly 2 orders of magnitude ahead of English Jack). Mignon Fogarty has done a great job publicising her site, but with publicity, you end up getting misrepresented in the media. Now I'm not really sure what all went on with this article, but I would bet that Fogarty's points are rather decontextualised. The premise involves comparing a grammarian's responses to various song lyrics with a DJ's responses. Grammar Girl comes out looking ridiculous. Here's an example:

Song: “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” by Sting.

Offending line: “If you love somebody, if you love somebody, if you love someone, set them free.”

Grammar Girl says: “Someone” is singular, so technically he should have sung, “If you love someone, set her free,” or “set him free,” or “set him or her free.”

DJ Steve says: That’s the way we talk as normal human beings. Imagine the alternative. If he were to say “his,” then everyone would be sitting around talking about it and we’d all be wasting our time talking about this otherwise likable but forgettable Sting song.

To make it worse, elsewhere they quote Fogarty referring to the "subjunctive case". Now GG doesn't strike me as being a deep grammatical thinker. Her whole gig involves rehashing the same old issues covered in any style guide. If there's creativity, its entirely in the presentation, not in the analysis. Still, GG does know the difference between a mood and a case, at least terminologically speaking. She has at least 3 posts referring to the subjunctive mood and none referring to "subjunctive case".

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