What is Karl the Curmudgeon Upset About?
Laughing Stalk syndicate
"I'm getting tired of all the sloppy grammar people use these days," lamented Karl, my friend and part-time curmudgeon.
What are you thinking about?
"That," he said, gesturing at my face wildly.
I still don't know what you're talking about, I said. That's some grouchy mood you're in.
"Gaah! You're killing me, Kid!" I knew what he was talking about. I just couldn't resist. "Don't end your sentences with a preposition," he said.
Fine. That's some grouchy mood you're in, jerk.
"Ha, ha," he deadpanned. "You know what I mean."
We were sitting in The Yodeling Mountaineer, a Liechtenstein bar and grill, watching the Lichtenstein national soccer championships on satellite TV. Mauren was facing Eschen for the Liechten-Stein national trophy. Eschen was beating Mauren 2-1.
You know that's not a real rule, right?
"Bull!" said Karl. "That's all our English teachers ever drummed into us when I was a kid. And I can't think your teachers were slouches when you were a kid either."
Well, ignoring your starting that last sentence with 'and,' — "Dangit!" said Karl — that whole not ending your sentence with a preposition thing is a myth perpetuated by people who haven't extended their grammar education beyond the 7th grade.
Karl sputtered and plonked his empty beer mug on the table. "I learned from Mrs. Halberstadt, a stern German woman who taught English by making us memorize all these rules. If we didn't recite them correctly, she would whack our palms with a ruler."
So? I learned it from Mrs. Taylor in the 7th grade, but that doesn't mean she was right. In fact, she was wrong about a lot of things, mostly including whether I could read "All Quiet On The Western Front."
"About what are you talking?"
Sorry, I was talking to myself. And, eww! 'About what are you talking?' That was awful.
"Hey, it's important that I practice good grammar if I am to correct these gross misuses," Karl sniffed.
I motioned for Heinrich the bartender for two more. A brown ale for me, and a doppel bock for him, I told Heinrich.
"Kid, you know full well that I'm an educated man. I'm a writer, for God's sake."
That doesn't make you a grammarian.
"It makes me more of a grammarian than you'll ever be."
Heinrich brought the beers back and set them in front of us.
"In whose mug did you pour this beer?" asked Karl.
Oh, come off it, I said. Heinrich just looked confused. I grabbed my beer and took a drink.
"You're just upset that I know more about grammar than you."
No, because if you knew anything about grammar, you would know the basic rules of ending your sentences with a preposition.
"Which are. . .?"
Basically, if you can take the word off the end of the sentence, and it doesn't change the meaning of it, you should leave it off. But if you take it off, and it changes the meaning, it has to stay.
"Now you're just confusing the issue," said Karl.
Not at all. Try 'where's it at?' If we remove the 'at," then we have 'where's it,' or actually 'where is it?' The sentence stays the same, so we can drop the 'at.'
"Told you so."
Not so fast. Now take the sentence 'what are you looking at?' Take off 'at,' and it becomes 'what are you looking?' That completely changes the sentence, so it has to stay.
"Why can't you just say 'at what are you looking?'"
Come on, would you actually say that? Can you imagine trying to intimidate some punk with 'at what are you looking?' He'd laugh in your face and then pound you.
"Whatever, Kid," said Karl.
Ooh, or maybe Robert DeNiro in "Taxi Driver," should have said 'To whom are you talking? To whom are you talking? Well, I'm the only one here.
"Now you're just making it sound stupid," said Karl.
I'm not trying that hard either. Even the strictest grammarians don't think people should speak that way.
"Kid, I don't think you know into what kind of grammar quagmire you're getting yourself."
Karl, would you just knock it off? It's not a real rule. It was created by 17th century linguists who wanted to impose rules on the English language. And since Latin sentence structure doesn't allow for prepositions at the end of a sentence, they made that rule for English too. But the rules just don't work, and they've been perpetuated by misinformed English teachers for centuries.
Would I lie to you about language?
Karl thought for a moment. "No, I guess not. That's not something you've ever messed with."
That's better, I said.
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