What better way to highlight the worst use of English than to present prizes to grammar miscreants

Saw who won the first ever Idler Academy Bad Grammar Awards?   What better way to highlight the worst use of English over the past 12 months than to have an evening out and present prizes to grammar miscreants.  Well, at least it gets us talking about language again.

We’ve all seen the dodgy apostrophe use on market stalls, but when Transport for London, the political editor at the Sunday Times, the National Literacy Trust and QPR Football Club are all guilty of committing grammatical offences, should we despair?

It might be the spring sunshine or it might be the fact that I’m off on holiday next week, but apart from my obsession with the accurate use of the apostrophe, I’ve become much more liberal in my views about grammar.   No doubt I will have made any number of errors in my own writing over the years (that’s very difficult for me to admit…should I be using an adverb of degree in that sentence?), but then I don’t write for the Sunday Times (yet) and I don’t spend tens of thousands of pounds on safety notices which mix infinitives and gerunds (?).

Grammar, apparently, has become a political issue: the Right will be applauding last night’s awards, whilst the Left will be criticising the elitist prescription of language rules which alienate most people.  Mmh, (I know that’s not a word), here’s an idea; maybe Mr Gove and Mr Burnham could debate the philosophy, while schools get on with teaching children how to communicate clearly and accurately so they aren’t bamboozled by politicians and exploited by big companies in adulthood.

There is a difference between guidance and prescription, and, as linguistic experts observe, there is a plurality of grammars: grammar for writing, for speaking and for broadcasting; dialect grammars and dialect for social media.  We break rules for rhetorical effect, but the skill is to do this intentionally (how clever!) rather than accidentally (buffoon!).  How can we develop this skill and adapt our language usage if we aren’t taught to understand how language works?

Let’s encourage accurate grammar, where it’s necessary, but be wary of casting the first stone in the bid for perfection.  Invitations to the awards included reference to the ‘X-Factor-style’ ceremony, which, as we all know, is grammatically incorrect!

Wonder if I’ll be nominated next year?

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