Famous quotes that break “rules”

I expected my latest article for TheWeek.com to generate some reaction in the comments, and I was not disappointed. Not that I wrote it just to troll people, but when you venture into certain territory…

The idea behind the article was to look at some famous quotes – sayings that are well known and often said – that break rules that are often learned in schools at about the same time as the quotes are. And then, of course, to look at whether those rules are really rules or not. But I didn’t explain that in an introduction. I just dove right in (or, if you’re a hoary prescriptivist, dived right in). Which may not have been the best idea, since – in combination with an eye-catching but slightly misleading headline (I don’t write the headlines, by the way, but I do get to see them in advance and could always suggest a change) – this approach provoked a variety of reactions in the comments section.

Here, for better or worse, is a link to the article:

9 famous quotes that are (technically) grammatically incorrect

And feel free to tell me what you think!

2 responses to “Famous quotes that break “rules”

  1. #8 “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    I can’t wait for this semester to be over. I just got home from government class man! :} But anyway, now that you mention it, this one is poorly constructed, to say the least. Don’t you think they were just pretending to sound sophisticated?
    Questions:
    ‘an egg’ instead of, ‘a egg’–is that superstitious?
    Does this mean that peope can really say ‘aks’ instead of ask?

    • Perhaps the most consistent rule in all of English grammar is the one that has us use “a” before a consonant sound and “an” before a vowel sound. But some varieties of English (not the “standard” kinds) use “a” everywhere. So it’s not superstition, it’s dialect and register.

      “Aks” is actually the way the word was said in Old English (they spelled it “acs”). But then it changed. It’s been “ask” for quite a long time now, but in some dialects either it’s changing back or (maybe less likely) it never changed in the first place. This is like the “a” one. If you’re speaking one of those dialects, it’s something that says you’re speaking that dialect. But I wouldn’t use it in formal written work. Wrong dialect, wrong register.

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