To niggle or not to niggle?

A recent glance at a language blog stopped me in my tracks as I contemplated where I’d like my own language blog to go in the New Year.

In his December 30 post, The Baltimore Sun’s John E. McIntyre, a language blogger, resolved to not nitpick when it comes to the grammatical missteps of others. In essence, he vowed to stop doing many of the things I and those who comment on Word Nymph do on a regular basis. This made me feel a little sheepish.

McIntyre said he’d no longer “whinge” about how young people speak and write these days or lament the decline of the English language. Further, he resolved to stop making or contributing to lists of grammatical pet peeves. Alas, he appears to be a bigger person than I. I just recently engaged my readers in contributing to piles of peeves.

There was one resolution that got my attention “I will not assume that everything Miss Thistlebottom or Sister Scholastica told me about grammar and usage when I was a mere tot is permanently and universally valid.”

I confess that, in my own writing, I often draw on rules I learned in grade school, lessons I seldom questioned and have forever heeded to the letter. I do consult other sources as needed, to verify my understanding of the rules, especially when I am discussing them here.

On one hand, McIntyre appears to be suggesting that we honor the English language as it continues to evolve and not revere ancient laws as ultimate truth. I’m not sure I’m ready to do this. I’m not ready to welcome into accepted practice those errors—many intentional—that have crept into our language so invasively that to oppose them is just too much of a burden. The path of least resistance, in a sense.

On the other hand, he appears to hold dear the virtues of proper speech and writing. I like his New Year’s toast: “Lift a brimming glass at midnight and drink to the hope that in the coming months we will all speak and write with more accuracy, clarity, force, and grace.”

Perhaps what he is saying is that, as writers and speakers, we should continue to uphold our personal standards, while exploring new and clever ways of expressing ourselves, but not judge those who do not.

I agree with this in theory. However, if I follow McIntyre’s worthy example, I am afraid I will have little left about which to write in the New Year.

I never intended to be the grammar police or a word Nazi; I prefer to have fun with language, pointing out interesting rules I am still learning and coming up with interesting ways of remembering them. At the same time, it’s also nice to have an outlet.

This is as much your blog as it is mine. Where do you think we should take it?


Filed under All Things Wordish, News, Reading, Technology and Social Media

13 responses to “To niggle or not to niggle?

  1. Mom

    I think we should take it exactly where YOU take it.

  2. Paul Pinkston

    Please continue to niggle.
    We need help so that we may “… all speak and write with more accuracy, clarity, force, and grace.”

  3. db mashore

    go forth niggling boldly!

  4. Sheree Moyer

    Niggle away to brighten my day!

  5. I would agree with the othes so far, niggle on. Remembering the roots of the language–as we learned it–is never a bad thing. Language in all its glory is a love of mine from the poetry of expression to the psychology of why we say what we say.
    I do think we need to remember, sometimes, that the language we learned at the knee of our grammarian teachers was an evolved language that had changed greatly over the years even while they taught their own current “correct” version.

    While I make every effort to use language well, to be mindful of meaning, punctual with punctuation, and careful with construction, I find myself less and less bothered by how others write, how others express themselves.

    Your blog about language contributes to me, and to others, and I trust it will continue to do so. Still, you will find that not everyone gets the message.
    Write on!

  6. And of course I would leave my typos (above) intact. Sigh.

  7. Margie

    I think you are right to uphold your personal standards… no, wait, I can use a contraction – “you’re right”. Oooh, I’ll text you, I’ll tell you that “ur right”. Could you reply to my text “rn”? TMA for me, I’m afraid. I’m going to have to stick to the language I learned long ago.

  8. Polly

    I think language is supposed to be fluid, so I am certainly open to a new take on an old formula. But, much like poetic license, it is important to know the basics before you deviate from them.

  9. I try to be good – honest I do – but sometimes writing it wrong really shows what I mean to say so much better. Only yesterday I discovered that there’s no such word as ‘disgustingness’.

  10. Since we’re now living in a word of facts, numbers, verifiability, etc., I suggest niggle on about 33% of the time, excoriate about 10%, let go 50%, plagiarise 5% and reverse-engineer the rest (2%) = 100% reason to remember.

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