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“Please Don’t Say That!” A Grammarian Gives Up

In Issue:

This is to serve notice on the world that I quit. I resign. I give up the crusade. For 40 years I worked on the copy desks of newspapers and magazines, trying to straighten out the grammar of the great American public, and, in particular, six of the most common faults. My success has been about that of most reformers. From the instant I began my efforts, things have been getting steadily worse and worse. As every copyreader knows, the six most common faults are these:

Using data as a singular noun. (“The data is readily available.”)

Using contact as a verb. (“I’ll contact you tomorrow.”)

Confusing like and as. (“Just go on acting like you did before.”)

Comparing unique. (“His collection of coins is rather unique.”)

Using providing for provided. (“He will come providing he is able.”)

Using literally for figuratively. (“I was literally burned up at what he said.”)

I am no longer on any copy desk, but old habits die hard. I find that I go on editing printed copies of newspapers and magazines furiously, and then throwing them into the wastebasket, which is not a very effective plan of operation.

I sit in front of my television set shouting at the tiny figures on it: “No, no, you dope!”

I also sit in front of my television set shouting at the tiny figures on it: “No, no, you dope!”

It is perfectly clear that the American people in their collective unconscious wisdom are changing the language. They have every right to do it. I can’t stop it. This has been going on as long as there has been a language, with fuss-budgets like me being dragged, kicking and screaming, at the tail of the procession. Another few years and even the purists will happily use the expressions I find so painful today. When that day comes, just contact me, like I’m asking you now to do. I’ll then look in my most unique files for the data which is there confirming my prophecy. That is, of course, providing I am not literally frozen with horror at the way things are going.

—“An Old-School-Type Grammarian Gives Up
the Struggle” by Bruce Bliven, September 22, 1956

This article is featured in the January/February 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives. 

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