[ExI] silly 'rules'

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Sep 16 20:48:02 UTC 2015

On 2015-09-16 21:41, Dan wrote:
> Most of this seems complaining about arbitrary rules that have little 
> to do with communication, which is what talking and writing are all 
> about. Why are sentence fragments bad, for instance? And why is it 
> wrong to start a sentence with 'and'? It neither case is it wrong if 
> the meaning is clear or the effect is intended. Most of the 
> school-taught rules are simply unexamined bullshit that don't codify 
> any useful rules. Yet they continue to be passed along as if they were 
> rational and objective.

It is the ancient feud between prescriptivists and descriptivists. 
Fuelled by the fact that correcting grammar shows off your (high status) 
education, and allows you to reduce the uneducated other guy.

That said, some of the rules are due to non-obvious underlying patterns 
we mere mortals rarely notice, and breaking them do cause communications 
problems. In Swedish we have a system for compounding words, but many 
younger people are influenced by English and split them apart, making 
texts more ambigous and a-rhytmic. But if you are not an experienced 
reader this drawback is not noticeable, and just lowers comprehension 
and enjoyment.

The same is true for typography. Caring too much about hyphenation or 
kerning is a sign of madness. Yet they can help or hinder communication, 
and follow subtle rules.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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