An earlier post on the rise of too-literal grammar Nazis during the 18th C, and the concomitant decline of cognitively flexible speakers, gave me the idea to get back to my linguistics roots and correct these self-proclaimed guardians of language whenever I notice something.
The previous example was plural subjects taking a singular verb when construed as a collective, which fell out of usage from the 18th C. onward. If a present-day Shakespeare tried to use this construction, he'd be pilloried by the dictionary dorks and would therefore probably keep his mouth shut in the first place. It doesn't matter that the sense is entirely understood by the audience -- it's simply illogical to have a plural subject take a singular verb. (I've also noticed that they could take singular pronouns as well in a collective context.)
Anytime you hear someone accuse another of committing a speech crime because something-or-other is "illogical," you know you're dealing with a Mr. Spock Aspie who just doesn't get people, can't read between the lines, and needs everything spelled out. Which leads us to our next example, whose name I didn't know at first, but through some googling found this grammar tutor who uses the apparently standard term "illogical comparisons." Here is the example he gives:
1. Skateboarding in New York, unlike California, is usually hampered by busy streets and crowded sidewalks.
He even admits that the meaning is 100% clear. We don't pause for a second and say to ourselves, "Huh, I kinda see what they meant, but it still sounds off in some way." This is a totally acceptable sentence in English, then. Ah, but not for the Nazis. You see, the words involved in the comparison are "skateboarding in New York" and "California" -- the first is an activity, the second a state of the U.S. Thus, comparing the two would be IL...LO...GI...CAL.
What these geeks fail to appreciate is the role of elision in human speech. We elide all kinds of unnecessary junk in our speech because the other person -- assuming they aren't Dr. Spock -- can read between the lines and fill it in with no error whatsoever. Take this example:
2. The boy Hayley kissed began to blush.
If we must be totally obvious about what we mean, we really need to supply a relative pronoun connecting "the boy" and the modifier "Hayley kissed" --
3. The boy who(m) / that Hayley kissed began to blush.
Yet sentence 3 is just fine in its more stripped-down form as sentence 2. This silencing of unneeded words is exactly what's going on in the so-called illogical comparisons. Obviously the speaker is not thinking about a contrast between an activity like skateboarding and a state like California, and obviously no listener would infer that. The Nazis' correction is something like this:
4. Skateboarding in New York, unlike skateboarding in California...
But who the hell needs all that extra words in there? It would be fine with just:
5. Skateboarding in New York, unlike in California...
Aha, they don't specifically mention "skateboarding" in California -- and they don't have to. They know it, and we get it. Take it just one step further by eliding "in" and you get the original, which is perfectly fine.
I think autistics and Aspies must not have existed before the 18th C. -- that's when we start to leave agriculture behind and move to market economies, where a more flexible mind becomes something of a cost, given how hyper-specialized your role in society becomes. The Age of Reason and the birth of grammar Nazis both stem from this change in people's genetic make-up. I think there must have been some profoundly Aspie people who really jarred on hearing "illogical comparisons." By affiliating with each other or merely spreading their confusion to others, their influence came to dominate and rules were written down about making language use more logical.
Most people learning these silly rules today realize that they make no sense and accept them as one of those annoying things-you-must-learn to impress your social superiors and colleagues with your writing style. Though most adherents of such rules know them to be baseless, they won't point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes -- if they squint for just a moment... yes, there it is! -- fabric after all! Following dogma isn't always bad, but here it is as though a mass of dieters were following the prescriptions of some guru who was 200 lbs overweight, couldn't move at all, had dessicated skin, and labored even to breathe.
Why would anyone treat language laws as scripture if they came from someone who couldn't even understand the speech of a normal 10 year-old child without having every last little assumption made overt? If you need that many hints about what someone means, you're too clueless to be giving us advice on how to make our meaning clear.