There is really no excuse for incorrect grammar. Perhaps Chaucer might have been able to get away with saying things like
Oure Hooste lough, and swoor, “So moot I gon,
This gooth aright; unbokeled is the male,
Lat se now who shal telle another tale,
For trewely the game is wel bigonne,
by claiming that no one had ever told him the rules, but this pretext no longer suffices. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to claim that we have known how to speak grammatically for centuries—except that I, at least, am not even one century old yet. There are even people called grammarians who devote their whole lives to grammatical correctness. And I, for one, resolve here and now not to tolerate any sort of solecism.
But yet, grammatical lapses are all around us. The other night, I was dining in a public restaurant with some friends1, when I overheard some diners at another table holding a conversation composed completely of grammatical mistakes. Let me make sure you’re absolutely clear about how shocking this was: not a single word that those gluttons used was part of the English language. This absolutely stupified me. It made me altogether lose my appetite. I leapt up, and my first act was to complain to the management.
“Sir,” the management responded, “those people aren’t even speaking English.”
“That,” I replied coldly, “is no excuse.”
I ask you: how can one get away with flouting the rules of grammar, and then be so shameless as to call it French? Preposterous!
So now that none of my friends are speaking to me anymore, I’ve fallen to wondering why there are so many people who just don’t seem able to use correct grammar. One cause, to which I have just alluded, is the existence of ungrammatical so-called languages such as French. The existence of these, of course, we simply cannot tolerate any longer.
But I have come to the conclusion that another cause of barbarous linguistic abuse is the frequent occurrence of grammatical lapses, often egregious ones, in popular song. While I may not myself be able to completely stop people from speaking French (as my efforts in the restaurant the other night make only too clear even to me), I can nonetheless strike a forceful blow for tagmemic correctness by writing popular songs that are certified and guaranteed to be free from any and all errors, lapses, and mistakes in grammar.
Given the sheer number of improper songs in existence, completing this work will take some time. But I will not allow myself to be discouraged. My first effort, which I have just completed goes like this:
We went on the sloop John Y;
My grandfather and I—
And we roamed around Nassau town.
After drinking all night,
We got into a minor altercation;
I feel so broken up, that I wish to go home!
That’s as far as I’ve managed to get, but it is, I hope you’ll admit, a good beginning to my noble work. Check The Flying News in the near future to see if I have managed to produce anything further in this vein.
“Geoffrey Chaucer reading his poems to the court of Richard II,” Frontispiece to Troilus & Criseyde, c. 1400. MS 61, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Public Domain.
- At least, they were my friends—I’m not sure they are any longer. ↩