Scrolling Headlines:

UMass tuition set to rise 3-4 percent for 2017-2018 school year -

July 18, 2017

PVTA potential cuts affect UMass and five college students -

July 10, 2017

New director of student broadcast media at UMass this fall -

July 10, 2017

Whose American Dream? -

June 24, 2017

Man who threatened to bomb Coolidge Hall taken into ICE custody -

June 24, 2017

Cale Makar drafted by Colorado Avalanche in first round of 2017 NHL Entry Draft -

June 24, 2017

Conservatives: The Trump experiment is over -

June 17, 2017

UMass basketball lands transfer Kieran Hayward from LSU -

May 18, 2017

UMass basketball’s Donte Clark transferring to Coastal Carolina -

May 17, 2017

Report: Keon Clergeot transfers to UMass basketball program -

May 15, 2017

Despite title-game loss, Meg Colleran’s brilliance in circle was an incredible feat -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball loses in heartbreaker in A-10 title game -

May 14, 2017

Navy sinks UMass women’s lacrosse 23-11 in NCAA tournament second round, ending Minutewomen’s season -

May 14, 2017

UMass softball advances to A-10 Championship game -

May 13, 2017

UMass basketball adds Rutgers transfer Jonathan Laurent -

May 13, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse gets revenge on Colorado, beat Buffs 13-7 in NCAA Tournament First Round -

May 13, 2017

Meg Colleran dominates as UMass softball tops Saint Joseph’s, advances in A-10 tournament -

May 12, 2017

Rain keeps UMass softball from opening tournament play; Minutewomen earn A-10 honors -

May 11, 2017

Former UMass football wide receiver Tajae Sharpe accused of assault in lawsuit -

May 10, 2017

Justice Gorsuch can save the UMass GEO -

May 10, 2017

Learn to grammar

Ending sentences in prepositions is something up with which I will not put. And, neither should you. Also, please do not begin sentences with conjunctions. I will not apologize for grammar policing, but I do have an entertaining point that’s not quite as snobby, so read henceforth.

Among the greatest grammatical transgressions, some of the worst include using a possessive when one means to use a contraction, using only one comma in a three object series, ending sentences in prepositions, and writing ridiculous “he or she” constructs in an undying crusade to be linguistically diplomatic.

Using the masculine pronoun for a human antecedent whose gender is not otherwise specified upsets a lot of people and it is easy to imagine why. Many who disapprove of this usage argue that it supports a kind of implicit attitude that males are either more important or notable and point to an underlying sexism that permeates traditional language. But this does not consider a very obvious, similarly traditional, practice – using feminine pronouns for almost everything else. Nearly every country, ocean, nautical vessel and personification for things lovely or inspiring is referred to as being feminine.

These include, but are not limited to: liberty, nature, truth, knowledge, beauty, love, and justice.

These are all things for which people have traded their lives. Think about this: these are things worth defending to death. This is a truly profound thing – to willingly and knowingly terminate one’s own existence in exchange for protecting and preserving them. They have begun and ended wars, created and destroyed nations, and served as the fundamental bases for truly ethical and civilized behavior. This is an honor so poetic and great it dwarfs the privileges enjoyed by masculine pronouns in most every sense.

However, this may not be sufficient reason to convince some people. Frankly, I do not quite understand why. Compare transcendent and culturally refined ideas taking feminine pronouns to baser and more mundane objects taking masculine ones, and you might appreciate traditional language regardless of its nominally sexist history.

To be fair, I imagine this topic is not at the top of most people’s lists of things explosive and highly notable, so this may be a new light on an issue for he, she, (s)he, s/he, s-he, shim, her-him, he-she, or herm who is not so concerned with the woeful trend of increasingly clunky language.

But the problem is not just a slippery slope toward cumbersome word usage; there is also a problem of how future generations would approach classic texts assuming present tendencies become more popular.

Will people one hundred years from now read the classics and dismiss their ideas on the basis of what may be seen as open sexism? If they grow so accustomed to gut associations of traditional language with something it is not, will authors that contributed so much to our culture and philosophy be thoughtlessly disregarded by those who think themselves “up with the times?”

If you think this is a trivial issue, then I challenge you to consistently use only masculine pronouns instead of “he or she” or “they” in your speech for even a few days around campus and listen as people snip at you for it – and it would happen; believe me.

The real point I would like to make is that language works best when succinct and clear. Having a codified system of rules and syntax is not just an aesthetic point ¬– it is one of personal benefit as well. How many independent scenarios can you recall where core disagreements came about due to poorly communicated language? Or perhaps you recall a few conversations where you were using a key word in a way another person was clearly using differently. Can you feel how frustrated you were? Did you rapidly lose interest in communicating with this person as you got more flustered? This is what happens when people start saying things like “sick” when they really mean “good.”

Really, it is a terrible thing to sacrifice accurate and concise language to please those with delicate sensibilities. The whole mess almost reminds me of a few scenes from “Life of Brian” only the offended people aren’t acting and no one is having a good time.

Brian Benson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at

2 Responses to “Learn to grammar”
  1. chris says:

    excellent article. good writing is under appreciated. as strunk said “omit needless words.”

  2. This was a great piece. I don’t know if I agree with the underlying thesis, though. Having a “codified system of rules and syntax” is definitely important, but the only real reason why a writer should know all these rules is so they can break them effectively.

    Language is an ongoing, organic process, so applying strict rules to it is like retrofitting a pre-fabricated addition onto an old colonial house: Some stuff just isn’t going to fit.

    You seem to suggest that the transition from “good” to “sick” is unnatural, but I’d say the opposite. Take the etymology of two similar-sounding words that are very unlike in meaning: awful and awesome. Meanings can shift, flip and turn on their side, because Homo sapiens is a fickle animal with a limited collective memory.

    It would be unnatural to put an embargo on that usage because some prescriptivist deemed it inappropriate.

    Great read, though!

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