Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.
Drive a getaway car. Tattoo your face. Tag the streets with your impossible-to-read street artist name. Or just break some outdated rules of the English language.
You may think someone who loves, majored in, and is making a career out of English would stringently adhere to all the rules. While I cringe at a misused “their” as the much as the next logophile, there are certain rules I’d love to humiliate in an arm wrestling match.
Something I think many orthodox writers, readers, and teachers overlook is that language is not like math. Mathematics operates under a defined set of rules; and it has for thousands of years. Language is an art. It’s a living, breathing, changing phenomenon. Ferdinand de Saussure
, the famous 19th
century linguist said, “Time changes all things; there is no reason why language should escape this universal law.” If this isn’t the case, then we might still be saying things like, “Methinks thou art a beslubbering, plume-plucked pumpion!” Well, only in extreme cases, I’d hope.
I like to approach language from a linguistic angle, because I find that language’s most beautiful product is meaning. Did you know, you’re allowed to “make up” words—and USE them? You can do whatever you want, because ultimately, the goal is effectiveness.
This isn’t to say your website content
or blog should become a Gertrude Stein
-esque or E.E. Cummings
-inspired writing portfolio, but be aware that language is yours to mold however you feel is most effective for your cause.
Here are some English rules you can start breaking now:
Never use sentence fragments.
Sentence fragments are usually little parts of a sentence that broke free from the main clause and started their own, like a Confederacy. (E.g. “She has many talents. Such as lion taming, fire-eating, and contortionism.") Sometimes, this is a glaringly awful mistake—like that example—but other times, sentence fragments are intended for style.
The film was invigorating. Horrifying, romantic, heart-rattling. The kind of thing you can’t forget.
Always use a comma to signal a pause.
Sometimes, while I’m staring into space, I wonder, what’s the meaning of life, and, it turns out, I don’t know.
You might have a neurological problem if you require 6 pauses in one sentence. It’s quite easy to overuse the comma, so make sure you edit yourself. The comma is a valuable form of punctuation. Overuse cheapens it and makes reading a chore.
NOTE: Don’t underuse commas either, because they provide clarification. Does the image on the right mean to say "I’ve loved you so long, psycho," or "I’ve loved you, so long, psycho?"
Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
But actually, go right ahead. And if anyone gives you trouble for it, well, you bring them to me.
Never split an infinitive.
It’s okay to come between the “to” and [verb] of an infinitive. It’s best to carefully consider what sounds better in a sentence before forcing it to follow a rule.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
My grandpa has a less-than-appropriate joke about this rule. It goes something like: A man is walking around a college campus, lost. He asks a passing professor, “Excuse me, do you know where the library is at?” Professor responds, “Don’t you know, you should never end a sentence with a preposition.” Man says, “Okay. Do you know where the library is at, [expletive]?”
Prepositions like at, on, beside, beneath, from, over, until, etc. have been banned from the ends of sentences for ages. I can’t think of a good reason. Can you?
“An” always goes before nouns starting with a vowel; “a” always goes before nouns starting with a consonant.
This rule should be broken based on sound, not spelling.
An hour, not a hour. A united team, not an united team.
Conversely, some people insist “an” is used before historic, historical, etc. If anyone tells you this, they 1) may have been born centuries ago, or 2) are too pretentious for anyone’s own good. Either way, do not trust them.
Don’t use slang.
Colloquialisms are perfectly fine. Just make sure you know your audience. If you own something like a law firm or rehabilitation center, avoid it (clearly). But a clothing company might urge you to increase your swag by purchasing some new threads or kicks. And that’s all good. (Don’t overdo it though, as I just did. Hey—I’m trying to prove a point.)
“Fun” may only be used as a noun.
Well that’s no fun.
Debates about the use of “fun” as an adjective run rampant; especially on the Internet. A few sticklers say that something can’t be fun—that one can only have fun in the same way one can have measles.
As language evolves, many others agree that it’s all right to use fun to describe something. Some agree “funner” and “funnest” are also acceptable. Use your own discretion, as this usage may catch an insulting comment or two.
My verdict: use fun as an adjective on site content and blogs; use funner and funnest only in blogs or other informal venues.
And now, a few rules you must stop breaking immediately:
Use American-English spelling only. Because writing colour does not make you seem interesting.
Use i.e. and e.g. properly, and not interchangeably. Think: i.e. – in other words, and e.g. – for example.
Use apostrophes to signify possession or conjunctions—not plurals. Speaking of face tattoos…
Remember, language is an art. You may think there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in writing for websites, company blogs, and other professional settings, but there is. Know your audience, and then find a way to communicate with it in the most effective way possible.