English Lessons: Funny grammatical “mistakes” you probably didn’t know (Part 4)

What is grammar?

In Shakespeare’s time, the English language was fluid, beautifully conveying meanings through colourful language.  There were no prescriptive rules as “grammar.”  But in the 18th century, English ultra-nationalists began to create rules governing the “correct” use of English.  One day, some old Englishmen got together and invented a bunch of rules to keep the English language “pure” from barbarians like us.

Thou shalt not use adverbs as adjectives

One of those “rules” was the difference between adjectives (e.g., “bad”) and adverbs (e.g., “badly”).  There has even been grammar books arguing how the words “bad” and “badly” have been used wrong wrongly.  In L. Sue Baugh’s Essentials of English Grammar, she wrote that the word “badly” :-

“… is often mistaken for the adjective bad.  Badly, an adverb of manner, indicates that something is done ineptly or poorly,” as opposed to the adjective, which “means ‘in poor spirits’ or is used to describe the degree of something.”

What the heck are they talking about?

Let me give you some examples.  If you say, “I feel bad,” you’re saying that you feel upset, unhappy, or unwell.  But if you say, “I feel badly,” you’re saying that you’re not capable of feeling, you’re feeling numb, or you don’t feel anything.  In Michael D. Moore’s A Handbook of Current English, he writes :-

Bad is the adjective, badly the adverb.  Although bad is the preferred form following a linking verb, badly is sometimes used [incorrectly].”

Language is ‘an army of metaphors’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

Language, in the words of Nietzsche, is “a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically.”  Since the 18th century, English grammaticians have attempted to “reclaim” their language to differentiate themselves from those who spoke “bad English,” who were deemed to be vulgar, barbaric and savage, butchering their superior culture.

But the beauty of language is that it is fluid.  There is no “right” or “wrong” way of using a language, which Nietzsche had described rightly as “an army of metaphors.”  Words are metaphors used to convey thoughts and values unique to one’s culture and society.  And over time, language changes based on the evolution of human experience.  Armies rise and fall.  What we know as “grammar” was socially constructed by old dead Englishmen to maintain hegemony over discourse.  Let’s break free from the chains of our previous colonial masters.


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