The Grammar Question

One of the great advantages my writing groups give me is a breadth of vision about ‘normal’ grammar. I’ve learned to stay in the middle of the grammar continuum, which to me looks like this:

Stuffy <——————————————-> Stupid-boring

It’s pretty easy to stay away from the far ends. I can’t have my characters saying, “There’s just no telling to whom that e-mail was addressed.” Not in 2015. (Well, maybe a stuffy lawyer or professor.) But making a millennial sound natural doesn’t suggest writing ‘like’ several times in a phrase, either.

The difficulty comes when a word or construction is in the process of flux. Do I use my old guy grammar (suspiciously close to the stuffy end of the spectrum) or jump to the painfully colloquial end.  After all, OMG, stuff is changing all the time, Mother Tonguey’know?

This quote from a recent New York Times article causes me immediate pain: “Then he pours the beige beverage into jars and chills them before bringing the containers to work the next day at Metrodigi, an education technology start-up.” (Bold italics mine.)

The Chicago Manual of Style site says: bring; take. The distinction may seem obvious, but the error is common. The simple question is, where is the action directed? If it’s toward you, use bring {bring home the bacon}. If it’s away from you, use take {take out the trash}. You take (not bring) your car to the mechanic.”

The helpful interlocutor on the website notes, “I’m sure some people (here and elsewhere) will think concern about bring/take is pedantic. I have to admit to accidentally mixing them up and getting called out about it.”

The writing groups (20-somethings to 70-somethings) generally keep me in the middle of that continuum. Beyond that, I guess I’ll just, like, struggle along.

 

Bring/Take and the Surrender of Grammar to Chaos

This morning, the Sunday New York Times delivered a shot upside the head before I even read about Ebola or the insanity that is ISIS.NYT paper bagThe bag.  It was the bag.  There, in the upper right corner

NYT closeup“Bring it Back” from the NYT. Bring it Back? Really?  Not “Recycle it?”

Since the delivery person already brought it to me, it has no further place to be brought, does it?

Seems to me (and very few other curmudgeons, apparently) that we are in an era of grammatical entropy. Articles on the subject seem to concentrate on the reality that language evolves (Duh…), that grammar really needs to represent what people speak, and so on. Maybe it’s that the brave new 140-character thought processes we seem to be bathed in so much of the time just can’t contemplate fine distinction, but the bring/take distinction is, it seems to me, different than, e.g., the who/whom distinction. Making all mentions of movement become ‘bring’ loses an important distinction, possibly … no, probably … causing confusion. Who/whom rarely does that, because it’s usually obvious to whom we are referring in a sentence. (And then there’s the issue of ending the sentence with a preposition.) (And sentence fragments.)

Maybe I need to find the address of the presumably long-suffering NYT delivery person and add to what must be a mountain of plastic bags in his/her living room.

Of course, it’s possible that all material things are meant to be brought to that black hole where odd socks and occasionally car keys are said to reside, from which they can never be taken out (of). Now, that’s entropy.