Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reality collides with what Simon says

In my recent column on "Un-rules," I mentioned (though not by name) a usage adviser who was getting paid to enforce nonexistent rules:
The usage czar of the Telegraph in London recently chastised a reporter for using the construction "spelled it wrong." But the reporter had it right: He spelled it wrong, it’s tied too tight, she drives too slow — all these adverbial forms are fine. 
That misguided yet dogmatic peevologist was Simon Heffer, who has now published a book full of similar baseless prejudices, and who today gets a well-deserved thrashing for it over at Language Log.

First Geoffrey Pullum takes on Heffer's claim (uncritically repeated by the BBC) that we mustn't say "The Prime Minister has warned that spending cuts are necessary," because warn needs a direct object: "has warned the nation."

Then Mark Liberman debunks Heffer's notion (still current in certain journalistic circles) that a collision must involve two moving bodies, not, say, a car and a tree.

And Ben Zimmer follows up with a look at the history of transitive warn, explaining that Heffer's opposition is not based on pure fantasy (as with wrong/wrongly and collide) but was shared by other British usagists of the earlier 20th century, who considered this warn an American corruption.

Heffer's death-grip embrace of old rules and non-rules seems perverse and mischievous, but I suppose the reality-based usage community should be grateful for the abundant fodder he provides us.


Simon M Hunter said...

Heffer works for the Torygraph, which is well known for its 'death-grip embrace of old rules and non-rules'

Very nice blog, I shall follow.

Stan said...

Perverse, yes; mischievous, I don't know. Mischievous to me suggests a certain playfulness, no trace of which I can detect in Mr Heffer's behaviour.