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Being a giant nerd, I’m really enjoying Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It is a history of the world’s first comprehensive dictionary: the oft-quoted “OED,” the model by which all modern dictionaries are written, the authoritative description of a constantly shifting language and a paragon of thoughtful design and scholarship.

I think that dictionaries are important.  I don’t mean that in the snobbish, “all-books-must-be-printed-on-paper” way (I consult online dictionaries all the time).  I mean that in the sense that there should be guidelines for the proper use of language.

Communication is mutual agreement.  If you think that the word “orange” means “a way to pound spices by aggressively wielding a mortar and pestle like they are hated enemies,” and then you use the word “orange” in that sense whenever you talk, you’ll find that people will get confused easily.

Example:  “Last night I was making a roast, and I oranged for so long that I think I damaged my elbow.”

Likely Response:  “What?”

(Happy Place has some great examples of people ignoring spelling rules, and the brilliant responses that responsible English users offer in return.)

Grammar falls under the same category.  Mutual agreement makes it work.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for bending or even breaking rules, but you need to know what the rules are to break them for an intentional effect.  Sentence fragments can convey choppy, syncopated thoughts.  Run-on sentences can express exasperation or stream-of-consciousness.

Using either one all the time expresses ignorance and poor education.

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