Writing is communication, the transference of thoughts and images between two members of the same species. People were communicating successfully for millennia before dictionaries and rules of grammar formalized the art of written communication.

I blame lawyers, while confessing that I have not researched the historicity of the legal origin of formal rules of grammar. Those rules are clearly legal trickery, and are not necessary for social communication. A billion emails every day are proof of that.

Preventing ambiguity in the laws and in legal contracts is a legitimate justification for the legal professions obsession with grammatical rules. 

I accept the counter argument that they can be used to create loopholes.

If you accept the assertion that one of grammar's functions is to reduce ambiguity, then it is largely irrelevant to the art of fiction. Fiction and literature thrive on ambiguity, ambivalence, double meanings, and multiple interpretations. Ambiguity keeps a host of literary critics and university professors employed, and stimulates coffee house debates.

Grammar can be a creative tool. In a passage in one of her novels Virginia Wolfe uses semicolons to help create a sense of psychological repression. (Sorry, I can't look it up for you. My books are molding in storage).

But don't use this blog as an excuse to ignore the rules of grammar, you will hand your critics a weapon to turn against you. On the other hand, if you want to make $100 per hour arguing about the position of a comma, forget writing and get a law degree. You will be in good company. A small army of undergraduate English majors has gone on to law school, and a few of them later wrote some pretty good novels and created the genre of legal thrillers.

My apologies to all editors and proofreaders out there who do a stellar job of restoring order to grammatical chaos.

Good writing usually - but not always - adheres fairly closely to rules of grammar. Or so we have been taught to believe. Deviate from it with clear intent and artistry. 
11/22/2010 03:28:32 pm

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