Friday, November 16, 2012

I Want to Boldly Break Grammar Rules

Look, I'm not a grammar nazi. If I was, I probably would have capitalized "nazi." But I do like to at least know when I'm breaking grammar rules. There's a scene in a mediocre movie that I only saw once years ago, Finding Forrester, that has stuck with me. Unfortunately I can't find the clip on youtube so you'll have to rely on my highly imperfect recollection. Anyways, the setup is that a young kid with a lot of raw writing talent becomes unlikely friends with a reclusive literary genius (styled after J. D. Salinger). In the scene I remember, the kid writes something that uses some kind of nonstandard grammar; the older guy calls him out on it, and the kid says, basically, "Whatever man, maybe I was using it as part of my literary style!" To which the wise old author yells at him "You have to know the rules before you can break the rules!"

That's how I feel. I may or may not choose to break grammar rules at certain times and in certain places (for example, I almost never use "whom" even when it's called for because I don't want to sound like a pedantic a-hole) but I want to be able to choose whether or not I break the rules.

This is why it absolutely floored me to learn today that "anyways" is a very nonstandard construction; "anyway" is the actual word. "Anyways" is on par with "irregardless." Which thing I never had supposed. I say "anyways" all the time! So now I have to start paying attention! Because really, even if I sometimes don't want to come across as a pedantic a-hole, I still am one.

p.s. The grammar rule I hate the most and don't care one single bit about breaking--in any context--is the prohibition on splitting infinitives. Such a stupid rule and one that is entirely arbitrary. And it makes sentences sound super awkward sometimes!


  1. If I had noticed, I probably would have helped you out. As it is, I'm probably struggling too much with my own beams of grammar errors to notice anyone else's motes.

    I've recently started trying to use "farther" and "further" correctly. I almost invariably use the wrong one every time. Am I almost making it worse by focusing on it?

  2. EMR, it's the thought that counts, so I appreciate that :)

    The nice thing about further vs. farther is that further is always right, whereas farther should only refer to physical distance. (Funnily enough, I did come across this clip from Finding Forrester in my youtubing for the above post that discusses this exact point--what can't that movie do?!?) So just never say farther and you're good to go! :) (Also it sounds like a lot of authorities don't even bother to distinguish between them anymore, so it's not even a very set rule anyway.)

    1. This is a great clip. I love Finding Forrester. It's been too long since I last saw it.

      Thanks for the clarification. I feel much better about life now that I know the rules of farther vs. further.