English and its Crazy Rules

05/15/2012

English is certainly one of the more difficult languages to learn because it’s such a hodge-podge derived from so many different sources. In a way, it’s too bad that there isn’t some official organization that cleans up and standardizes the language. Such an idea isn’t so far-fetched, as French speakers have the Académie française to moderate the language. For English, we just rely on Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and pop culture to define our language and how it is used.

If spelling and grammar conventions alone aren’t enough, you also have the various formatting styles for writing: AMA, AP, MLA, AAA, APA, etc. Each one sets forth a certain way you should title a paper, use footnotes and citations, and set margins and fonts. Whew! So many rules governing use and display of the same language.

Here are some rules that confound me: having to put commas and other punctuation before a quotation mark at the end of a sentence or list. Another is the spelling of “through” and other words we don’t pronounce precisely as spelled, like “awkward.”

Title conventions can be another source of mystery. For example, the episode we just finished up is called “Till Death Do Us Part.” I’m pretty sure not all the words get capitalized (i.e. “do”/”us”), but the main title on the version of our show that airs is all in caps, so it’s not crucial to know the rules. The DVD labels I print for the office and network folks, however, are in mixed-case, so that’s the only time I have to consider the proper capitalization. Also, in general, why do we capitalize “I” but not “me?” See, there we go again with the punctuation before the end quotation mark. It looks odd and makes it look more like “me” is the question, rather than the whole sentence.

I suppose all this thinking could be a crusade stemming from my childhood. I won the Spelling Bee in sixth grade but lost the previous year on the word “marble.” Can you guess how I spelled it? M-A-R-B-E-L. That moment was caught on tape, and it’s obvious that I knew I made a mistake when walking away, grinning but shaking my head and throwing a fist pump as if to say “dang it!”

It doesn’t all really need to be overly complicated, but it is. And it’s looking more and more like I will never find true English happiness until “through” is officially spelled “thru.”

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