“The English language, she said, is a minefield of irregularity, of exceptions outnumbering rules” – Ian McEwan
It’s true. The English language is the ‘boss level’ of the grammar world and once aptly described as a language “carefully cobbled together by three blind dudes and a German dictionary”. It becomes tough for even the most literate of folk to remember when rules do and don’t apply and there are many absurdities that without even noticing we have just kind of… accepted.
‘I before e except after c’
Drilled into our memories before words even made sense, we all bound into the adult world safe in the knowledge that we definitely had that rule pegged. But how many people remember the rest of the rhyme?
‘I before e except after c
Except for weird
Because that’s just weird
Or when sounding like ‘a’
As in neighbour or weigh’
And so the rhyme ceases to be memorable. It also sadly remains incomplete as, to name just a few, science, seize, either and feisty fall into neither category described.
Just one example of the grammatical exception being the majority, but there is an unparalleled joy to be found in mastering something so formidable as our mother tongue. Matched only by the joy of being the person to spot the error first.
Printing may have developed a third dimension and the mighty pen may be spiralling into redundancy, but one thing remains true – your opinion loses weight if your apostrophes are misplaced.
Entrusted with publishing, amongst other things, the professional profiles of key industry players, we follow a very simple formula: proof, proof and proof again.
Of course, we falter and (of course) errors slip through the proofing net, but we sleep safe in the knowledge that those mistakes were not made through carelessness.
But surely we all do that?
A second glance down the high street or closer inspection of your restaurant menu will provide much evidence to the contrary. Collecting these grammatical fails has become an accidental hobby of sorts. I think the pleasure comes in working back from the final product – to imagine the moment that someone somewhere looked at that sign, nodded with the satisfaction of a job well done and said ‘OK, let’s go to print’.
‘Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.’ – William Safire
Unless your grammar, of course, is less than.