Peeving over the (recent) centuries

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Over on my blog, I've been coming down hard on Ned Halley's Dictionary of Modern English Grammar, a dreadful volume purporting to be a guide to "grammar, syntax and style for the 21st century" (postings here, here, and here). When I find myself engaging with such a book, I usually try to read something more satisfying along with it. This time it was Jack Lynch's recently published The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of "Proper" English, from Shakespeare to South Park, which I recommend enthusiastically.

The book is meant for a general audience; it's engaging and often funny, and wears its erudition lightly. Along the way from Shakespeare to South Park, we get a lineup of distinguished people peeving like mad, along with some more reasonable people.

Except for the first and last, each chapter in the book focuses on a specific person: John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, Joseph Priestly, Noah Webster, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Watson Fowler, Philip Gove, and George Carlin. Some of these are obvious choices (Swift was a prime raver about language), but others are more intriguing choices, and plenty of other characters appear along the way.

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