I’ve never met the man, but I’d bet good green cash that Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) doesn’t end his sentences with prepositions.
After all, he’s a guy who likes rules. Even when the rules are wrong.
- Migrants, refugees, asylees, or aliens? How you describe people coming to America says more about you than them. | The Angry Grammarian
- Ben Carson didn’t know about REOs, but he’s not alone in acronym confusion | Angry Grammarian
- The problematic history of the word ‘thug’: From rioting Pa. coal miners to Tupac to a Philly courtroom | The Angry Grammarian
Corman recently caused a spectacle when he hysterically thundered for 2 minutes and 39 seconds over State Sen. Katie Muth (D., Montgomery), during which time he bellowed some variation of “Follow the rules!” or “You are not following the rules!” or “We have rules!” at least 25 times — and from the sound of it, didn’t take a breath the whole time. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Corman earned righteous scorn for trying to shout down a smart woman. By desperately invoking “the rules,” he was looking to win his argument not on its merits, but on a technicality.
Just like the grammar prescriptivists who hide behind language rules when they have no logic to offer.
When folks hear that I’m an Angry Grammarian, they often assume I’m a hardened prescriptivist — one who holds rigid, unchangeable beliefs about what’s right and wrong in grammar — who gets in a lather when people don’t follow traditional grammar rules. Friends often tell me that they hesitate to email me for fear that I’m constantly judging their grammar. (They’re wrong — I really try not to be judgy unless someone is paying me to do so — but at least it keeps my inbox count down.)
Yes, I love grammar. But some traditional grammar rules are really stupid.
For example, you learned in school never to end your sentence with a preposition. No one knows where this rule came from — theories suggest that some stylists just made it up around the 17th century because they preferred prepositions to be close to the words they’re modifying — but it’s been more than a century since any worthwhile style guides cared about this one.
(To everyone starting to write me a letter about the supposed Winston Churchill quotation about how this is nonsense “up with which I will not put”: Please stop. He almost definitely never said that.)
Or there’s the rule about never splitting infinitives: My high school English papers were inked in red with notes about not separating the to from its infinitive verb, as in, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” But why is that a rule? Because the infinitive form (“to go”) of any verb is just one word … in Latin. The thinking goes: Because you can’t split up a single word in Latin, you shouldn’t be able to do so in English. Which, of course, is asinine. Splitting the infinitive is often the more precise and concise — and therefore preferable — construction.
And what about the rule that says you can’t start a sentence with the word and? Every style guide agrees that you can. Legit examples of doing so date back to the ninth century.
Each of these rules has its small-minded adherents, but the arguments for them are paper-thin. The positions are just technical enough that one can boast that they’re following Very Important Rules, but simple enough that those rules can be espoused by someone who isn’t very smart. Those simple rules are a fig leaf for a larger ignorance.
In his 2 minutes and 39 seconds of trying to shout down Katie Muth, Jake Corman didn’t argue complex rationales for why he objected to the General Assistance program that Muth was trying to salvage. He argued for his fig-leaf “rules.”
In the end, heartless Senate Republicans voted 26-24 to kill the program. Muth’s pleas were something up with which Corman didn’t have to put.
But given the national spotlight that the episode earned for Muth, one has to wonder if she’ll eventually be the one to boldly go where no man has gone before.