Arnold Zwicky (whose class last summer was the inspiration for this blog, by the way) has a killer post on Language Log right now. His key point is twofold, complete with two catchy mottos: “Crazies win” and “Don’t let crazies win”. Crazies, in this particular context, are people who demand that you do grammar their way. People who thumb their noses at those who split infinitives. People who call those who interchangeably use that and which ill-educated morons. You get the idea. Many crazies are unabashed about it, wrapping themselves in stoles of “grammar snobbery”, which is for some reason considered a good thing to them. And, because of how obnoxiously they impose their unfounded grammatical beliefs, they win — other people start believing that infinitives can’t be split and “over” and “more than” mean different things. (Hence the “crazies win”.)

The key question Zwicky raises and struggles with is “what should grammar advice be, in light of the crazies?” Should you tell students not to split infinitives because there are ill-informed ignorami out there who would fault them for it? I think he’s right when he details the position he’s come to:

“After many years of wrestling with this question — I’d tell students that there were many people who viewed split infinitives as just wrong, and some who were lunatic on the matter, so they might want to take that into consideration — I’ve decided that the best advice is just to go ahead and do what seems natural to you. There are much more important things to worry about in this life, and if you think you can satisfy the tastes of everyone who reads what you write or hears what you say, you’re doomed”

I’ll drink to that. (Jealously, of course, as he’s put it better than I’d’ve put it.) Grammar prescriptions should be about the big things, not the minutiae, and they should be well-justified. Unless you have a darn good reason for claiming that something is “bad grammar”, let it go. Those who actually study language understand this, but are too often content to just ignore the crazies. That’s how the crazies win. We need to take the crazies to task as much as they take the rest of us to task. Drown their sound and fury in a deluge of reason and historical usage. Don’t just let them win. (Hence the “don’t let crazies win”.)