Grammar Wars Heat Up As Author And Linguist J.M. Hoffman Encourages Some Rule Breaking

Feb 11, 2013, 16:14 ET from Uniquely Books

NEW YORK, Feb. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Do you know why "he's taller than I'm" doesn't make sense in English? Or why a frustrated if polite traveler might lament getting stuck in "Missis-GoshDarn-sippi" but not "Mississip-GoshDarn-pi"? Author J.M. Hoffman does, because in addition to writing the thriller series The Warwick Files, he holds a PhD in linguistics.

Hoffman presents these and similar examples in his Huffington Post essay, "Why Only Some Grammar Rules Are Breakable," the latest salvo in a debate that Hoffman calls "misguided." His words come in response to a Guardian piece that describes "a fierce row" over grammar, which in turn was started by a claim in the Smithsonian that "most of what you think you know about grammar is wrong."

All of this attention to grammar highlights the subject's surprising popularity. "Even though middle-school students just hate it," Hoffman says, "adults love to hate it." In particular, they apparently love to hate grammar mistakes (other people's), to judge by the attention the columns have received.

Hoffman delineates two competing varieties of grammar rules, which he dubs "who died and made you king?" and "but we've always done it that way!" The first is the middle-school or style-guide approach, which tells people how they should talk and write, while the second describes how people actually do talk and write. Linguists know these as "prescriptive" and "descriptive" grammar. Hoffman says both are important, but he chides modern grammarians for not distinguishing between the two.

Hoffman also posits a third, artistic kind of rule, which good authors follow and superb authors sometimes knowingly break, even though they take a chance when they do. "Deviate from the aesthetic rules," he says, "and you end up either with a mess or with a masterpiece," because "art is like that."

Hoffman contributed a second piece to the Huffington Post book section over the weekend: How Long Does It Take To Write 10,000 Words? It also deals with the art of writing.

Hoffman authored two non-fiction books and contributed to over a dozen others before writing The Warwick Files. He signs his non-fiction with his full name and title, and his fiction with the shorter "J.M. Hoffman." He can be reached through his website at

SOURCE Uniquely Books