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Yes, Most Definitely

Speaking of speaking sloppily about sloppy speaking, Your Humble Blogger found A Def Ear to the Rules of Grammar by Clyde Haberman in this morning’s New York Times, to be a marvelous example of a journalist neither knowing nor caring what he’s talking about. Well, former journalist, I suppose. Mr. Haberman, writing about rap music, says, “The people who should really be hip-hopping mad are grammarians.”

Anyway, it’s not clear whether Mr. Haberman really believes creative misspelling to be a grammar problem, or whether he just uses ‘grammar’ as schenectady for something like ‘written usage claimed as standard in bad middle-school texts’. He has one example which vaguely alludes to subject-verb agreement, I think, and the rest are all about nonstandard spelling, mostly in stage names. That is, he thinks Snoop Dogg, in choosing his stage name, made some sort of error in grammar, when in fact Mr. Broadus hasn’t even made an error in spelling.

He asks four ... not grammarians, but let’s say, people who deal with written usage claimed as standard in bad texts, one of whom is enough of a stickler to register the complaint that hip-hop “offends all kinds of sensibilities, including those of grammarians.” Jesse Sheidlower, as you might expect, far from being a stickler, says “their poetic inventiveness is worthy of emulation”. The other two also fail to throw the hissy fit Mr. Haberman seems to think is the primary job of people who study language.

The funny thing, for me, is that after asking four ... people Mr. Haberman thinks are experts on whatever he thinks he’s talking about, he ignores what they tell him. And, of course, he didn’t think to ask one of them “Is it correct to refer to the stage name Ludacris as a grammar error?” It’s also fairly likely that one of the four could have told him that def is not a misspelling of deaf, and that it is Mr. Haberman who has the deaf ear for what grammar is, if not its Standard English rules, while it is far more likely to be Chuck D who has the definitive ear for grammar.

Thank you,