Thou shalt smitest those who wouldst alter thine language most sacred. Or, move on to something more consequential; you’re standing on shaky ground.
Let us Canadians show that stereotypical tolerance for differences on this, our southern neighbours’ National Grammar Day.
In the one camp are people who think that and which should be used in different circumstances, exclusively. They feel those differences are vital.
In this camp, that is a word that restricts meaning; which does not. Which adds information but is not necessary to understanding the main clause. Satellites will fall from the sky if the spec docs use which where that applies.
The other camp contains what Editing Canadian English calls “language authorities [who] increasingly concede that which can introduce either type of clause.” ECE is a publication of the Editor’s Association of Canada.
Camps like these are where grammar gang wars start.
According to Mark Pilgrim (see the note at the end), hold-outs in the first camp are ignoring some pretty old and respected evidence: Dickens, Carroll, Stoker, Conrad, Melville, and Bronte all used which the “wrong” way.
“The copy editors are enforcing a rule which has no support at all in the literature that defines what counts as good use of the English language.” That’s what Mark said in a post on the U of Penn Language Log. And Mark is a technical writer who just may be concerned with the dire consequences of language misuse and imprecision such as satellites falling from the sky.
Having this non-rule imposed on his own writing created a hostile environment for poor Mark. He just about pops a vein in his Language Log post. This reminds me that the first rule of editing is “do no harm,” and that harm can be done to authors as well as to prose. How much time is spent “correcting” according to “rules” that are disputable? I hope it’s not why Mark quit the internet.
Haiku contest for grammar day
This post was originally published as a special Grammar Day post on the Copyediting blog; one of the day’s special set.
ACES held a Haiku contest to honour Grammar Day, and I got the honour of being on the panel of judges. Bit overwhelmed by the stature of those on the panel, but the poems were so fun that I almost forgot to be intimidated.
You can see the winning dodge-themed poem over on the ACES website, Copydesk, and read the other entries. Many were clever, insightful, and surprising. Some even included nature, as is the tendency for Haiku.