The usage game: Catering to perverts

Geoffrey K. Pullum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


It would be rational to expect users of works on grammar and usage to want to be treated like adults, and given authoritative information to help make their minds up about controversial points of Standard English. In reality it doesn't seem that way: the evidence suggests that they want to be berated and dominated, or even humiliated and disciplined. Judgemental compilations of fiercely stated but unmotivated prohibitions far outsell careful scholarship on usage. Usage-guide authors face a dilemma: to go along with the public's desires for harsh rulings seems like pandering to a masochistic perversion; yet offering evidence to refute false notions of correctness often leads to charges of lowering standards and promoting anarchy. The linguist who wants to avoid both horns of the dilemma is in an awkward position. Usage books might do better to simply omit some time-worn topics rather than perpetuate grammatical myths.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnglish Usage Guides
Subtitle of host publicationHistory, Advice, Attitudes
EditorsIngrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780198808206
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2017


  • usage grammar prescriptivism


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