Notes from An Alien

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More Conversation about Grammar . . .

Grammar conversation

Photo by orijinal on / CC BY

The first post in this discussion—A Blog Conversation about Grammar—looked at the word history of “grammar” and revealed that many “rules” of English grammar are actually rules for Latin…

In fact, the trustworthy article about grammar that I excerpted said: “There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.”

So, I was happy when an author I know, from Australia, was kind enough to comment on that last post…

Instead of plunking her entire comment down in one quote, I need to share it a sentence at a time and engage in a discussion with her…

“I absorbed all the grammar I know from reading and from learning a foreign language.”


I tried to learn French and Latin; but, my brain seemed to want to eternally linger in English—reading, though… Omnivorous…

“Reading books taught me what worked and what didn’t in English sentences and I never gave a thought that those sentences were actually following a set of rules.”

I’ve read (somewhere…) that grammar is “potentially” present in the mind at birth—some feel there’s a proto-grammar that can “come forth” in whatever language the child learns—mapping itself to the lay of the language-land…

This is why I think, “…what worked and what didn’t in English sentences…”, is a perfectly reasonable response to reading—we innately, intuitively “know” whether the grammar in the sentences we read is “correct”. Naturally, this capability matures over time, and more fruitfully, when a person exposes themselves to many different texts…

Children learn to talk without needing a complex set of rules—not at all strange to say because the child would need to already have learned how to use words before they could internalize a set of rules…

“To me the only point of a well wrought sentence is that it conveys its meaning beautifully and powerfully.”

She said: “…well wrought…”.

Here’s the word history of “wrought”:

mid-13c., from past participle of Middle English werken (see work (v.)). Wrought iron (1703) is that which is malleable and has been brought into some form.

So… using good grammar in writing is taking certain “malleable” ideas and bringing them “into some form”—a form that is “beautiful” and “powerful”…

Here’s the remainder of her comment:

“Grammar is evolving all the time because most modern languages are evolving…Latin no longer changes and I guess that is why its grammar does not either. What will be the biggest influence on grammar in the future ? I am gonna guess texting…. :-) “

I’m gonna guess that she’s joking about texting—only because I see it as a temporary phenomenon that will disappear when digital talking is completely verbally rendered—no more amazingly trained digits speeding over a keyboard…


English grammar will transform, as our collective human mind evolves—taking that which is malleable and bringing it into some form…

The next conversation post is this coming Monday and it only takes one more comment to keep this topic going :-)
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send Me a short Voice Message

A Blog Conversation about Grammar . . .

Blog Conversation about Grammar Our last discussion here—A Blog Conversation about Book Promotion—had a very short life due to a lack of reader comments; but, having exercised my blogging muscles for seven years; and, to avoid talking to myself, I’ll begin a new conversation about “Grammar”…

Plus, I’ll start by going full-on Writing-Geek; then, I’ll calm down and share my own thoughts and feelings…

Here’s the complete word history of the term “grammar”:

late 14c., “Latin grammar, rules of Latin,” from Old French gramaire “grammar; learning,” especially Latin and philology, also “(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo” (12c., Modern French grammaire), an “irregular semi-popular adoption” [OED] of Latin grammatica “grammar, philology,” perhaps via an unrecorded Medieval Latin form *grammaria. The classical Latin word is from Greek grammatike (tekhne) “(art) of letters,” referring both to philology and to literature in the broadest sense, fem. of grammatikos (adj.) “pertaining to or versed in letters or learning,” from gramma“letter” (see -gram). An Old English gloss of it was stæfcræft (see staff (n.)).

A much broader word in Latin and Greek; restriction of the meaning to “systematic account of the rules and usages of language” is a post-classical development. Until 16c. limited to Latin; in reference to English usage by late 16c., thence “rules of a language to which speakers and writers must conform” (1580s). Meaning “a treatise on grammar” is from 1520s. For the “magic” sense, compare gramary. The sense evolution is characteristic of the Dark Ages: “learning in general, knowledge peculiar to the learned classes,” which included astrology and magic; hence the secondary meaning of “occult knowledge” (late 15c. in English), which evolved in Scottish into glamour (q.v.).

grammar-school (late 14c.) originally was a school for learning Latin, which was begun by memorizing the grammar. In U.S. (1842) the term was put to use in the graded system for a school between primary and secondary where English grammar is one of the subjects taught. The word is attested earlier in surnames (late 12c.) such as Robertus Gramaticus, Richard le Gramarie, whence the modern surname Grammer.

My English teacher in college told us that what’s handed down as “English grammar” is actually Latin grammar desperately trying to grapple itself to English; and, until about five minutes ago, I never did research on her comment…

There were many articles to choose from; but, perhaps, an excerpt from Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar Is Wrong, in the Smithsonian magazine, will suffice:

“As bloggers at and former New York Times editors, we’ve seen otherwise reasonable, highly educated people turn their writing upside down to sidestep imaginary errors. There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.”

If you read that full article, you’ll find a number of specific “proofs” that most “grammar” that’s forced on eager young learners isn’t “faithful” to actual English grammar.

{{ …the writer of this post is now wondering what a person using the translation widget (up there on the left) is thinking about that last statement… }}

So, where is “actual” English grammar…?

I, personally, find I learn the best grammar by reading the best novels I can find; and, I can only imagine; but, feel it’s more than likely true, that folks using other languages can learn their own grammars the same way…

However, being a life-long maverick, I have been known to use whatever feels right in certain situations…

How does someone choose which novels to read to help their mind easily absorb some grammar…?


Whatever appeals to you…

If you’ve chosen the wrong books, someone, eventually, will let you know…

Whose books have I used to help me constrain the wilder aspects of my maverickness?

C. J. Cherryh


All it takes for this conversation to continue is a comment from You :-)
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
OR >>> Send Me a short Voice Message

Blooming Words ! ~~ A Thesaurus That Offers Articles On Writing :-)

In case you didn’t know, a thesaurus is “a book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts” and it comes from roots AuthorMapthat mean “storehouse” and “treasure”

This image is from the Visual Thesaurus.

I encourage you to go there and put your own words in to try it out but you may want to consider subscribing—$20.00/year

When you’re on the Site you can click on any of the words that blossom-out and it will draw a new map with that word in the center—you can filter the map by parts of speech and play with many other relationships of the language :-)

Yet more awaits

But, some of it does need a subscription

Here are a few of the features:

Use words precisely ~ The intuitive interface helps you find words through their semantic relationship with other words and meanings.
Master word usage ~ Roll over a meaning to see its definition and example sentences that express that meaning.
Improve your grammar ~ Meanings are color-coded to indicate parts of speech.
Explore 39,000 proper nouns ~ Historical figures, phrases and trademarks are included. Look up Mozart, Manda or simply, “M.”
Check your spelling ~ The VT suggests a word if you spell it wrong.
Hear words pronounced correctly ~ The VT offers both American and British pronunciations (Internet connection necessary)
Personalize your experience ~ Use the Settings Panel to control font size, filter content, display up to 17 semantic relationships and more.
Connect to the Internet ~ Right-click on any word to launch an Internet search for images or information.
Access the VT from anywhere ~ No software to install, access from virtually any computer with an Internet connection.
Email word maps to friends ~ Share your favorite words with friends and family.
Explore five additional languages ~ Search for words in Spanish, German, Italian French and Dutch, as well as English. (International features are still in beta)
Unlimited access to our magazine ~ Read features about language and the creative process and join a community passionate about words, language and creativity.

So, that last bit—articles in their magazine—some are available without subscribing and here are just a few (with the first paragraph to entice you to click on the link):

The Energy of Writing “In physics class my high school junior year, I learned little, and of that little I remember little. Our brilliant though irascible teacher, Mr. Whitney, did, however, impress me with one fact of nature I’ve never forgotten.”

Lightening Struck: Strange Errors from the College Classroom “I’ve been teaching writing for nearly a decade, but I’m hardly a grammar maven. The fact is, I teach the kind of writing that those down in the trenches—wielding participles and parts of speech—find rather precious: I teach fiction writing, mostly to undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College, where my job is to promote imaginative storytelling, not to improve linguistic mechanics. Consider, as evidence of my approach, that I don’t even own a red pen, or that I couldn’t confidently tell you the difference between a direct and an indirect object. My wife—who does teach grammar—routinely corrects my own miscues around the dinner table. (Once I said, ‘These potatoes came out good’, and almost lost an eye.)”

Spelling, Usage and the Singular “They” “A couple of weeks ago we ran the first part of our fascinating conversation with Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan, an expert in the history of English and a member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel. Here is part two of our interview — a jaw-dropper for anyone interested in language — where we focus on gender, spelling and much more:”

The Noun Game “Everybody knows that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. It’s one of those undeniable facts of daily life, a fact we seldom question until we meet up with a case that doesn’t quite fit the way we’re used to viewing things.”

So, if you go to the Visual Thesaurus and try it out, I’d love to hear your reaction in the Comments :-)
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
* Google Author Page

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