As enthusiasts, have-a-go heroes and un-informed hacks are described any persons who attempt to improve the English language without having looked anything up.    This is quite an understandable thing to do:  if one wanted to make comments on mathematics or the sciences, one would obviously be well-advised to use research to back one’s arguments up, as these subjects play no role in everyday life.

But everybody talks!    Some of us actually talk rather well, and our advice on the topics of “which word is better”, or “why almost everyone is wrong”, will cause the world to benefit regardless of whether we have “looked in the dictionary” or not.   Some notable linguo-hacks include the Queen’s English Society, Simon Heffer and Bad Linguisticians.   They would have had more influence over the language if they had channelled their rage into a novel or play, but instead they opted to give constantly their unresearched opinions on words, a great boon to the world of linguistics.

There are three criteria that set linguistic enthusiasts apart from mere “experts”:

1. They judge the worth of words or phrases.   People have done this for centuries, and the words they hated survived regardless.    
Adjectives such as “inelegant”, “ugly”, “slovenly”, “fatuous”, “meaningless”, “low-class”, “punchable”, “affected”, “illegitimate”, and “vile” are a sign that a person believes they can control other people’s speech, an admirable quality.

2. A lack of footnotes and references, and perhaps a few examples that they have invented themselves, or impersonations of Brummies if no Brummie is readily available.

3. Finally, enthusiasts are sometimes so well-informed that one often pinches oneself and thinks, “I’m sure that isn’t right” and thinks of half-a-dozen arguments against them instantly; or they may use references to grammatical rules that haven’t been relevant for at least 50 years, so much so that one thinks, “Well done to them”.

Praise the lingo
In some ways, this debate is similar to the battle between Science and Religion: scientists use sensible, well-researched academic arguments, while religious adherents put their faith in their faith and base their decisions thereupon.
Of course, we linguistic hacks have both science and religion on our side.   We argue in favour of language that we believe has the best logical grounding, whilst basing our decisions almost entirely on our faith in the decency of humanity to do the Right Thing and not disobey us.

This is why we are founding The Proper English Foundation’s Church of Latter-Day Linguistic Hacks! (pictured right), a place of worship where we can sing well-punctuated hymns in rhyming couplets, and pray for the souls of those who are going to Hell for not using no double negatives.
We also hereby announce our intention to convert all Christians around the world to our new Hack Religion.    “Christianity” may have brought solace to the needy, but its grammar is not very good, is it?

Here is just one example.  Christians embrace the ungrammatical upper-case pronoun, as in the phrase, er,
“God hears us when we praise Him. Don’t You, God?”,
and then God says, “Yes.”   Him?  You?   Capital letters are completely unsuitable for pronouns and they must never be used!    Except for “I”.    Suffice it to say, the logic of English works in mysterious ways and must never be questioned, but on this evidence Christianity is probably going to be replaced within the year by our “young upstart” religion, Proscriptive Grammar, which can be practised with almost no effort.

Next hero: Lynne Truss >
Full List of Heroes

See also
Sp lit infin itives
How languages evolve
– Poetry

Maths: best left to the professionals


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