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Weve all been taught that this sentence--"Driving in from the airport, the
flags flapped furiously"--is wrong, wrong, wrong. But is it, asks David
Crystal. Everyone knows what this sentence means. No one actually thinks that
the flags were driving the car. Is this sentence really incorrect.
In The Fight for English , Crystal offers a stimulating account of the
struggle between various schools of grammar to control how we write and speak.
Ranging back a thousand years, to the anguished concerns of Aelfric the
Grammarian, and illuminating the contributions of Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster,
and many others, the book sheds light on ten centuries of warfare over
spelling, punctuation, pronunciation, and much more. The author takes to task
such take-no-prisoners grammarians as the well-known Lynn Truss (whose Eats,
Shoots, and Leaves was a giant bestseller), arguing that we should say no to
zero-tolerance prescriptive rules. Indeed, as one of the world's leading
authorities on the English language, Crystal offers an original and
authoritative counter-argument to the prescriptive agenda. He shows for
instance that context is very important, that the dangling participle "driving
in from the airport" is not wrong because the context makes the meaning clear.
Moreover, even the hope for a standard system of spelling is in vain, since
approximately 25 per cent of the words in a standard dictionary have more than
one spelling (such as dark room and dark-room and darkroom).
Hailed in The New York Times Book Review as "fascinating and insightful,
often funny," The Fight for English is a welcome breath of fresh air in the
often stultifying debate over English usage.