While I enjoy a well-written passage, I try not to fret too much over hard-and-fast writing rules.
I suspect it’s having spent too much time with too many know-it-all engineers and business folk over the years (you all know who you are) and having listened one too many times to how important their jobs are and, in turn, how confusing the English language is and how unimportant my job is.
Oh give me a break.
Oh, I hate misspellings, a misplaced comma, and incorrect phrase as much as the next person. Social media posts with the wrong “their, there, or they’re” most definitely put me over the edge. The wrong usage of “your and you’re” rank as a close second. For me, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I’ve long given others a break since I know firsthand how tough it can be putting two words together to form a cogent thought. I’ve just always figured that if someone takes the time to try their best to make sense and standout from the rubbish we see every day and they make a mistake, then I’ll give them a pass.
In fact, merely making fun of bad writing makes me paranoid to the point of questioning every sentence I write in this blog. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander if you know what I mean.
Despite all that, I was shocked to learn this week that I can stop worrying about several hard and fast writing rules that I learned as a kid. Corporate communications consulting firm, Ragan Communications Inc., ran a story that stated that you can actually start a sentence with “but, and, or however.”
The shock, the horror.
Let me repeat that again: you can begin a sentence with a conjunction. The mere sentence sends shivers down my spine.
Hard and fast rules
For too many years to count, I’ve tried to hold fast to this rule. You have a “but” or an “and,” and it has to be kept in the existing sentence. It’s not just Ragan. Any number of writing sources in recent years have been highlighting the change.
The change just feels wrong to me. Times have changed, U.S. presidents have come and gone, fashion styles have come and gone out of favor, but still you never start a sentence with a conjunction.
I’m at a loss for words. Next thing you know, they’re going to tell me that the Oxford comma is optional. It’s like they’ve — they, the people in the know — have let the cat out of the bag, but I’m determined to keep up with the changing times: I’m going to be a rule breaker now. I’m going to see how many beginning conjunctions I can crank out from this point forward.
They’ve opened up the flood gates, let me turn up the water pressure.
But, that’s not all.
According to the myriad of Google hits I found on the subject, it’s perfectly good grammar, to end a sentence with a preposition. Can someone please pick my jaw up off the ground? When did that happen?
Write around it, if you must, but don’t end with a preposition
Oh I’ve long tried to push this one by a copy editor or two and I’ve won a few of these battles and lost plenty of others. If nothing else, I’d love to go back in time to explain that one to my 8th or 9thgrade English teacher. I forget which grade he taught, but he loved the rule so much so that he made my life miserable to the point of me trying to wipe my memory of the class. He probably would have had a heart attack hearing of the change.
I can hear his voice and how he’d respond. He’d look at me crestfallen and say, “they may as well not even have any rules.” I’m not sure he really cared all that much about good writing, but he sure loved picking apart my writing.
There are other changes too. You can split an infinitive now. Who knew? Here’s another one for you: We used to be told to avoid contractions. Oh, how times have changed. I can’t remember the last piece I wrote where I didn’t use a contraction. Finally, we used to be told to avoid short paragraphs. Thanks now to the web, however, the shorter the better.
There’s one old school rule though that I continue to hold steadfast. The rule: limit your use of exclamation points. I hate them. In the words of the great Elmore Leonard, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” That’s still too many for my tastes, but it’s something to remember.
Oh, what has this world come to? I guess it means I just have to become a rebellious, rule breaker, writing rules, be damned.