In a comment to my last (cranky) post about grammar, Unca
asks:So you're setting up your own ("the people's"?) grammar rules here?
To which I reply: ab-so-freakin-lutely. That's how it works. We develop language to communicate ideas, feelings, concepts. Language grows and changes to accomodate our changing lives and habits, generally in the direction of more effective communication. When enough people have begun to say a certain thing, it becomes part of the language, and eventually finds its way into the rule books.
Think about the very first grammar primer. It had to have been primarily descriptive -- it described how people talked, which they were doing just fine, thank you, even tho they lacked a book to tell them how to do it. Then later, in our unending thirst to tame chaos and make ourselves feel secure, we began to view grammar books as normative -- this way to talk is "right", that way is "wrong".
Now, don't misunderstand me -- there are huge benefits to having grammar rules, and I'm not advocating throwing them out completely. What I rail against is the mindset that we are to serve the rules, rather than the rules serving us. The stultifying idea that language is supposed to stay static, that the Queen's English is always the most effective way to communicate. It's ballocks, and on some level we all know it (else why the difference in written and spoken speech? if the more formal, structured, rule-bound written language were actually the most effective way to communicate in every situation, we'd talk that way too.)
I propose we look at grammar rules -- or more accurately, at instances of their violation -- in the following way:
If breaking the rule makes meaning less clear, don't break the rule, keep it.
If the breaking the rule enhances communication (or if the effect is neutral), move on with your life.
If someone says "I should have went to the store today" is there any doubt whatsoever about what they're trying to communicate? I'll answer for you: there is not. So move on.
Likewise split infinitives, ending sentences with prepositions, "This is he", and on and on.
English has no gender-neutral third-person pronoun, and it desperately needs one. Recognizing this fact, we use "they" to communicate the idea of "he or she". What's wrong with that? Now we have a word ("they") that means either third-person-plural or third-person-singular-but-gender-neutral, depending on context. And context is more than adequate to resolve potential miscommunication. English is full of words with multiple meanings. We use context to resolve them thousands of times a day.
Another thing: in German, nouns are capitalized. If you asked the Germans (as rule-bound a people as you'll find outside Japan, I suspect) to write nouns without capitalizing them, they'd probably pee their pants. But guess what? English -- and most other languages -- get along fine without capitalizing nouns.
You know what that means, people? It means grammar rules are not set by God, that language can operate without some of them! How cool is that? It means that maybe your reactionary philistine resistance to grammar change is mostly about making you feel comfortable, not about effective communication! Wow!
But guess what else: now you're free! Bryan has struck from your arms the shackles of blinkered slavish adherence to every grammar rule some wizened crone drilled into you in 10th grade -- you have a new life, one in which you are free to say "Me and Jim went to the store", even if you don't know anyone named Jim! You can say "Don't be dissin' me" and "To boldly go" and even "23-skidoo" if you want, and you can say it proud(ly)! You're welcome!