As Mr. Loughner has tried to explain it in Web postings, English grammar is not merely usage that enjoys common acceptance. Rather, it is nothing less than a government conspiracy to control people’s minds. Perhaps more bizarre, even potentially troubling, is that he is not the only one out there clinging to this belief. Some grammarians say they hear it more often than you may think.
“It is completely off the wall,” said Patricia T. O’Conner, the author of several books on grammar, including “Woe Is I.”
“But I’m not actually that surprised,” said Ms. O’Conner, who also writes a blog, grammarphobia.com, with her husband, Stewart Kellerman. “I get mail once in a while from people who believe that it’s wrong to try to reinforce good English because it’s some kind of mind-control plot, and English teachers are at the bottom of this. For anyone to say that subject and verb should agree, for example, is an infringement of your freedoms, and you have a God-given right to speak and use whichever words you want, which of course you do.
“But they see it as some sort of plot to standardize people’s minds and make everyone robotically the same.”
Ben Zimmer, the “On Language” columnist for The New York Times Magazine, said he, too, had received letters talking of a “grand conspiracy.” He got them, in particular, when he was editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press.
“When people are confronted with linguistic authority of various kinds, whether it’s dictionaries or grammar books, the more conspiratorially minded may use that as evidence of some grand scheme, or something where people are pulling the strings behind the scenes and using language to do that,” Mr. Zimmer said.
Subjects and Verbs as Evil Plot
By CLYDE HABERMAN
Published: January 13, 2011