|[a] So(w) and Such RF|
I will be posting the manuscript that I have provisionally entitled Styling Culture on Round and Square during the autumn and into the winter. As you will quickly see, it is meant to be a grammar book for the anthropologist of American English. It has its prescriptive elements, to be sure (this is all explained in the introduction to the series), but it is meant far more powerfully to be a genuinely useful guide to the culture wars surrounding grammar and usage. In particular, I have great venom for both the annoying critics who always seem to be correcting people and (this is important) for the "good guys" who tell you that it doesn't matter.
They're both wrong, and they will hurt you if you listen to them. I'm here to help you, so read on.
|[b] Such a sow RF|
It won't cut it in writing. You need to write complete sentences...most of the time. There are always rhetorical reasons to alter the game a little and shake things up with an odd phrasing or incomplete sentence now and then. Even (occasionally) in academic writing. See? There is no excuse for cluelessness, though, and I suspect that lack of clues lies behind almost every misuse of so and such in prose composition. Maybe you are quoting your great aunt who loves to speak with gushing strings filled with such-and-so ("He was such a good little boy, and so smart!"). Go right ahead—you are quoting speech and honoring Aunt Hilda.
When writing a paper for your history class, however, you are probably not quoting your great aunt, or even Queen Victoria (who wouldn't have been found speaking (such) a shoddy incomplete sentence, in any case). Let's face it, you are usually writing incomplete sentences without any idea why you are doing so...or even that you are doing so.
"But it just sounds right."
|[c] Sow/reap such a lot RF|
I hear that one a lot. Well, many things that don't work in precise writing "sound right." Incomplete sentences often sound pretty darned good, too. That doesn't mean that they should form the foundation of your prose style.
I must admit that this is one of my grammatical hobby-horses, so please bear with me for a paragraph while we examine it. What do you mean when, especially regarding writing, you say "it sounds right?" What does that mean?
This is one of those places in which the crisis of reading and writing—which I mentioned the other day—comes to the fore. Most people don't read enough, or enough diverse material written in all sorts of genres, to have any idea at all about what "sounds right" in prose discourse. I often hear people praise a certain kind of writing with these lines: "It reads just like s/he talks." Now, don't get me wrong. Developing an ability to replicate speech on the page is a significant skill, and I am all for it. It is one sharpened arrow to have in your literary quiver, but just one. We should aspire, perhaps, to a little bit more diversity with our writing. If you are only able to write "like you talk," you are going to have problems.
So, "it just sounds right" won't cut it unless you have been reading Orwell and Atwood (and Spenser and Geertz), and those would just be yesterday's reading. Today you would spend a few hours with Liebling and Carlyle (and Shakespeare and Sahlins). You get the idea. "It just sounds right" needs to be reconsidered in light of your experience. If you just read the Twilight series, The Onion, and the instruction guide for Madden NFL12, you might want to dip your compositional toes a little deeper in the literary pond before you say "it just sounds right."
If you read and write and write and read, you might well get to the point where you say the same thing, but with a profoundly different meaning:
|[d] Suchosaurus RF|
Yes, I am playing with the coined word. We will take a week or so off from our Styling Culture posts. When we return, though, we will examine some Important Stuff. Some people like to Capitalize many Words. This is Problematic, as we'll Discuss.