Bernard Lamb is at it again. Well, to be precise, he was at it again, because the piece I just found dates back to October. But it’s just as poorly reasoned as anything new, so let’s go back and take a look.
Lamb, as you may remember from a previous encounter, is an Emeritus Reader in Genetics at ICL and president of the Queen’s English Society. He’s an old prescriptivist whose opinions were reached not by studying linguistics or the English language but by observing his students’ writing and complaining about its quality.
There’s no reason to go through the whole article, because most of it is uninteresting fluff and Stan Carey already said all that really needed to be said about the Queen’s English Society’s position. I just want to mention two things that Lamb wrote.
“It is sometimes argued that grammatical rules are invalid because some great writer broke one. That is nonsense. Great writers understand the rules and can knowledgeably break them occasionally for specific effects such as surprise or humour.”
Oh, the great-writers-versus-everyone-else argument. Lamb brazenly begs the question (and I mean this in the traditional sense that he surely would not object to) here. If a great writer breaks a rule, it is for a specific intentional effect, every time. How do we know that this is for intentional effect? Because we are reading a great writer. Okay, fine. Then explain the specific purposes that Jane Austen intended in the 87 separate uses of singular they that Henry Churchyard found in her writings.
“New phrases may be worth adopting if they convey a meaning that is neat, clear and concise – such as ‘yummy mummy’.”
Really? I mean, I’m not saying that yummy mummy shouldn’t be a part of English, but Lamb considers that a prime example of neatness, clearness, and concision amongst new phrases in English? That’s even odder when you consider that the QES disapproved of Ms. up till last year.