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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Things over which people fight

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Things that are no big deal.

Little Miss Know-it-All understands that in your quest to avoid her wrath, you have been following as many grammar rules as possible. However, there comes a point when you have to put the grammar book down and actually understand how to use the English language.

There are some things about which I do not worry. For example, it's sometimes OK to end a sentence with a preposition. I know this is confusing, especially considering what you're up against. Calm down. I'm certain that with time, the grammar Nazis will come around. If they can't join us here in the warmth of proper sentence structure, we'll just leave them outside. They are the sort of people we can do without.

Your attention must now be brought to another topic. The active voice is overrated. Or so it is claimed by me. My former journalism professor used to say that all sentences must be written in the active voice. I still don't agree. Rules are made to be broken.

Short sentences are good. They are easy to read. I like short sentences. But don't overdo it. Use commas. Or semicolons. Or linking words like and or from. You want sentences of different lengths. That way, you don't look stupid.

OK, show of hands: How many of you suspect that Little Miss Know-it-All is violently opposed to split infinitives? OK, put your hands down. You guys make me sad. Do you even know what an infinitive is? One way to easily find the infinitives in a sentence is to quickly look for the word to right next to a verb. You split the infinitive by putting another word, like an adverb, in front of the verb. Then you boldly go where no grammarian has gone before. And this isn't really a big deal, as long as the sentence is clear. LMK-i-A does not like split infinitives that don't make sense or are unnatural, but she is willing to quietly let some of them slide.

I am a huge fan of celebrity copy-editor Bill Walsh of The Washington Post. Out of deference, I am even willing to grant him a capitalized The in his employer's title. However, he and I disagree about the proper spelling of "website". He claims that the proper spelling is "Web site". He was correct in 1995 or so. But languages evolve, and our words about computers are changing very quickly. Consider the new meanings of hack and burn and digging, for example. "Web site" is pretentious. Maybe The Washington Post has a Web site, but I sure don't.