Word crimes

Dear Weird Al,

I enjoyed your “word crimes” song. I was raised to be a descriptivist linguist, but an inextricable part of my heart is prescriptivist, and you are clearly sided with the prescriptivist part of me. The descriptivist was dismayed at what you thought was wrong, but the prescriptivist rejoiced at some of the advice given.

That said, you yourself committed two word crimes during your song. They both occurred near the end, so perhaps you had become weary of words by the time you reached the end. This is understandable.

First, you misplaced the word “only” so that it modified the whole verb phrase instead of the determiner phrase. (“think you should only write in emojis” — in prescriptivist land, this means you should only write to the exclusion of all other verbs. You wanted to say “think you should write only in emojis”)

Second, you split an infinitive. “Try your best to not drool”. In this phrase, “to drool” is an infinitive, and the prescriptivist would say that English speakers should not split the parts of an infinitive by adding in a word like “not”.

So, good effort, Weird Al. I appreciate it. But you should have someone check over your grammar before you publish a song about how bad grammar bothers you.


The most cunning linguist


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