Stop! Grammar Time

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by Ransom Riggs

1. It was good enough for Caesar

When he wasn't lording over the Gauls, Julius Caesar wrote essays on grammar. As a result, high-ranking officials began to view good grammar as a status symbol and used it to keep out the riffraff. Those at the bottom of society studied it to get a leg up.

2. It Gave Rise to Glamour (really!)

In the Middle Ages, grammar was considered the most important of the seven liberal arts because it provided the key to understanding the Bible, alchemy, and astrology—subjects that conferred a kind of magical power, or glamour. Yes, "glamour" is derived from "grammar."

3. Compared to Latin style guides, the AP version's a joke

The most influential Latin grammar book in history was an 18-volume (18-volume!) anthology called Institutionis Grammaticae. Written by 6th-century scholar Priscian, the series enshrined Latin as the standard by which all other languages were to be measured. For hundreds of years, scholars snubbed Italian as Latin's bastard son, until the poet Dante took a stand in the 14th century. He wrote The Inferno in Italian—not Latin—and consigned Priscian to the sixth ring of hell.

4. Our laws don't all make sense

In the 18th century, the first upwardly mobile professionals happily shelled out for guidebooks on linguistic politeness, and many authors happily wrote them. Trouble was, Latin was still considered the grammar gold standard, so authors applied Latin rules to English, despite the fact that English is a Germanic language. This misunderstanding (and scholarly sloppiness) led to various grammatical rules that still haunt the language today. For instance, don't end a sentence with a preposition, don't split an infinitive, and don't use double negatives. While the first two rules have been decriminalized, the last is still a major offense.

Ed. note: This section was excerpted from Vol 7, Issue 1 of mental_floss. Be sure to pick up copies here.

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August 1, 2009 - 6:10am
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