A Reply to Amy Kelly

I have had a message from someone called Amy Kelly on my post on Captain Grammar Pants. You may remember that the Captain (a.k.a. Seán Williams) is a blogger on matters of grammar who happened to endorse a large number of Cassidy’s idiotic claims in a book she wrote on Irish traditional music. She later contacted this blog and said that she had got it wrong about Cassidy but since then she has published several silly claims about the Irish origins of English words on her blog. Anyway, here is the message from Amy Kelly:

You made some errors of your own.

…not one of the morons who insist [one who insists, not morons who insist]

You do not seem to make use of the Oxford comma, which I understand is a matter of choice, but it is almost always needed and I am of the opinion that it is needed in the following, as well as a colon after opinions:

to express all kinds of opinions: true, false, benign, or repugnant

What Amy Kelly seems to be saying here is that I make mistakes. This is not news to me. It is impossible not to make mistakes and what pedants tend to ignore is that it really doesn’t matter, because language is a tool, not an ornament, and it is quite robust. While grammar bores tend to pretend that they are trying to improve people’s powers of expression and stop the rot, the fact is that there is no evidence that any civilisation ever collapsed because people got sloppy about their accusatives and to the best of my knowledge, nobody was ever murdered by a psychotic panda because they misused the odd comma.

So, what is it really all about? Well, call me an old cynic, but it seems to me that what it’s really about is condescension, ego-tripping, snobbery and nit-picking. Which is why, if you’re the kind of person who likes that kind of thing, you need to do your homework and make sure your ‘corrections’ are themselves correct.

Amy Kelly is trying to say that I am wrong to say that Captain Grammar Pants ‘is not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception’ because one insists. This is plainly nonsense. If this were a sentence like ‘one of the children was sick’ then she would be right, because ‘were’ would be inappropriate. However, the two structures are not the same. In this case, ‘insists’ would be wrong, because I am talking about the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices deception and as I say, Captain Grammar Pants is not one of them.  If Ms Kelly can’t spot the flaws in her own argument without my assistance, she is obviously not as clever as she thinks she is. In my experience, grammar bores usually aren’t.

As for the Oxford comma, it is very kind of her to enlighten me on her opinions about punctuation. They have been duly noted and will be studiously ignored because … well … because I think my punctuation is clear and comprehensible enough and I really couldn’t give a rat’s arse if Amy Kelly disagrees.

2 thoughts on “A Reply to Amy Kelly

  1. David L. Gold

    One of the sentences in question reads [not “read”] as follows:

    Captain GP is somewhere between the two camps – way too irrationally pernickety for my tastes but not one of the morons who insist that a prestigious institution is one which practices illusion and deception or that you can only evacuate buildings and not people from buildings” (https://cassidyslangscam.wordpress.com/tag/syntax-of-go-leor/).

    Danielomastix is right because the subject of the verb “insist” is the plural noun “morons,” so that the verb too must be in the plural (“the morons who insist”).

    Many people (not just in English) have difficulty deciding what the number of the verbs should be in sentences such as this one:

    Mary is one of the many students who know their grammar well.

    It is a fusion of these two sentences:

    1. MARY IS one of the students (singular subject, hence singular verb).

    2. MANY STUDENTS KNOW their grammar well (plural subject, hence plural verb).

    When fusing the two, one must be careful not to change the number of the verbs.

    Therefore, the sentence that Danielomastix wrote consists of these two sentences:

    CAPTAIN GP [IS] not one of the morons (singular subject – Captain GP – hence singular noun [here understood] is).

    THE MORONS who INSIST that […]. (plural subject, hence plural verb).

    In any case, Amy Kelly’s argument is fallacious because it is an argumentum ad hominem: it criticizes Danielmastix’s English, which is not relevant here.

    To make her argument acceptable, she would have to show that at least one of Danielomastix’s corrections of Cassidy was wrong and Cassidy’s etymology right.

    (Compare apples with apples, not apples with oranges).

    Therefore, Amy Kelly’s argument is doubly wrong: it is an argumentum ad hominem and it does not show that Danielomastix was wrong to correct this or that etymology of Cassidy’s.

    Can any of Cassidy’s supporters correct any of Danielomastix’s many corrections of Cassidy’s etymologies? That is the relevant question.

  2. David L. Gold

    Who says that the compilers of the OED try to play down the influence of Irish on English? Here’s one of the entries from the edition of 1933, recently revised:

    geis, n.

    Pronunciation: /ɡɛʃ/ /ɡeɪʃ/ /ɡiːʃ/
    Forms: Also gaysh, geas. Pl. geasa, geise.
    Etymology: Irish.

    In Irish folklore: a solemn injunction, prohibition, or taboo; a moral obligation.

    1880 S. Ferguson Poems 63 This journey at this season was ill-timed, As made in violation of the gaysh.

    1899 D. Hyde Lit. Hist. Irel. 344 He thought he saw Gradh son of Lir upon the plain, and it was a geis (tabu) to him to see that.

    1899 D. Hyde Lit. Hist. Irel. 373 Every man who entered the Fenian ranks had four geasa (gassa, i.e., tabus) laid upon him.

    1928 Observer 22 Jan. 5/4 Apparently a man could be either:—(1) Born under a ‘geis’ prohibiting certain actions on his part, or (2) Laid under ‘geis’ either at birth or any time during his life, either by divine or human agency.

    1965 New Statesman 23 July 129/2 In a sense which most Irish people will know, this put Fallon under a geas, a moral compulsion, to say his bit.


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