Top 5 Myths About the English Language

Perhaps one of the most infuriating things about the English language is the pervasive misconceptions that people have of it. Particularly, it must be said, from people who speak it. From ‘you shouldn’t start a sentence with and or but’, (start a sentence however you like if you’re confident you know what you’re doing) to ‘you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition’, the English language is full of people who think they know better than everyone else.

So here’s our rant about why they’re all wrong – and a few other myths about the wonder that is the English language.

1. “You should put a comma where you would take a breath”

We reckon that this pervasive myth is thanks to stressed-out high school English teachers who don’t have the patience to explain the complexities of syntax to a class of 13-year-olds. We get it – relative, parenthetical and subordinate clauses are tricky to explain, but let’s at least try and be honest about it.

Commas are used to separate different clauses in a sentence. And we can argue all day about exactly which clauses they should separate, and trust me people do, but the basic principle isn’t that difficult to get your head around.

2. “English comes from Latin”

This may come as a bit of a traumatic shock to those that like to reminisce about the glories of the Roman Empire, but English didn’t arrive on our shores until after the Romans left. It was actually brought here by the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century. True, it has a Latin alphabet and a lot of Latin words, but they were added into the language later. You can put a Porsche sticker on your car all you like – but a Corsa is still a Corsa.

Unlike French, Spanish and Italian (which actually are Latin languages), English is a Germanic language, more closely related to Dutch and German.

3. “If it’s not in the dictionary it’s not a real word”

Define ‘word’. Pretty tricky to do without faintly mumbling about the Oxford Dictionary, isn’t it? Well, sadly, you can’t even do that. People who write dictionaries don’t have any more idea about what is and isn’t a word than you or I, I’m afraid.

Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that the dictionary is an authority on what is and isn’t English. But if you ask us, language is an organically-evolving phenomenon with no hard and fast rules.

So while dictionaries are useful in building a consensus to record and observe commonly used words, they aren’t the authority on what constitutes one. The downside of this (depending on your viewpoint) is that the selfies, lols, peaks and shades are here to stay. You can look forward to an article in the near future with full definitions of these.

4. “In the past, everyone spoke proper English”

As we just established, there’s no such thing as proper English. And until quite recently, there wasn’t actually such thing as ‘The Queen’s English’ either – at least not as we now know it. As this video by linguist David Crystal explains, the actors in Shakespeare’s original plays would have sounded more like pirates to us than aristocrats.

 

 

So next time someone tells you to ‘speak properly’, just tell them you’re talking like Shakespeare.

5. “You shouldn’t split an infinitive”

This one comes courtesy of 19th century linguists who were so obsessed with the idea of English being a Latin language that they tried desperately to follow its grammar rules. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

An infinitive is the form of a verb beginning with ‘to’ – ‘to go’ or ‘to make’ for example, which the Victorian linguists decided you should never split up. As it turns out, this is nonsense – so you can carry on saying ‘to boldly go’ whenever you damn well please.

 

If rudimentary concepts such as where to put a comma are subject to such intense misconception, it begs the question exactly what else about our language are we misusing on a regular basis?

The answer is quite a lot. As language nerds, we’ll be covering many of these in future blog articles so keep an eye out if you’re interested. But if you want to ensure your business is only publishing slick and professional article content writing, you’re going to need to navigate a complex mess of linguistic complications for yourself.

Alternatively, you might just want to hand it all over to someone who knows what they’re doing.

 

Matt Rooke About the author
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