English English language Etymology Grammar Linguistics Phrase origin Usage

Should we watch our language?

Q: My question concerns your recent article about the origins of “Johnny-come-lately.” How is this grammar? You should watch your language!

A: As the banner on our website indicates, we answer questions on “grammar, etymology, usage, and more.”

Many of our readers write in to ask about the origins of various expressions and slang terms.

Others ask about problems in grammatical structure—sequence of tenses, problems with pronoun case, and so on.

Still others write us with questions about spelling, pronunciation, punctuation, and plural formation, and ask about how such usages developed.

A reader of the blog once asked us why we use the term “grammarphobia,” not “grammarphilia,” in the name of our website.

As we said in a posting six years ago, the name of the website comes from the subtitle of Pat’s 1996 book, Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.

The website, like the book, tries to explain grammar (and other language issues) in terms that won’t intimidate grammarphobes, and won’t turn off grammarphiles.

By the way, we can’t take credit for coining either “grammarphobe” or “grammarphobia.”

Steven Pinker uses “grammarphobe” in his 1994 book The Language Instinct: “And who can blame the grammarphobe, when a typical passage from one of Chomsky’s technical works reads as follows?”

(The passage that follows includes terms like “L-markers,” “chain coindexing,” and “head-head agreement.”)

As for “grammarphobia,” we’ve found examples of the usage in two words (“grammar phobia”) or hyphenated (“grammar-phobia”) dating back to the 1920s and ’30s.

The single-word version (“grammarphobia”) showed up in print in the mid-1990s, about 10 years before we began using it on our website.

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