Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: My granddaughter, who is a college senior, tells me that as long as one can understand the meaning of what a person has said, there is no right or wrong, as to grammatical usage.

For instance, if I were to say, “I’ve eaten here before,’ and someone else were to say, ‘”I’ve ate here before,” or if I were to say, “I should have gone to the park,” and someone else were to say, “I should have went to the park,” both would be correct in her mind. Of course, she and I disagree on this matter.

My granddaughter is being taught that the time and place of a person’s grammar education is the defining factor in how one speaks and that any manifestation of that culture is correct. She even feels that double negatives are okay. When I disagreed with her, she asked me if I think I’m better than someone who may use grammar that doesn’t sound correct to me. I told her, “No, I think they just weren’t taught proper grammar.”

I’m 74; she is 28. Is it I who am wrong? –Anonymous

I’m with you, Granny. English is a living language that, like a tree, sheds its leaves and grows new ones so that it may live on. But the reality of and the need for change does not mean that we must accept every mutation.

Correct usage is written on the sand. The operative words here are written and sand. It may be that the sand will one day blow away or erode, but at any given moment the sand exists and so does the code of standard discourse.

” I was graduated from high school” was once the educated idiom. Nowadays “I graduated from high school” is not only acceptable, but more appropriate. Many of us speak and write, “I graduated high school,” but that construction is not yet “written on the sand” of standard usage. On the other hand, for most standard speakers and writers what was once almost universally called a lectern (from the Latin “to read”) has transmogrified into a podium (from Greek, “foot”).

But the differences between “I’ve eaten” and “I’ve ate” and “I should have gone” and “I should have went” are not what your granddaughter sees as the windy suspirations of an elitist. These differences go to the heart of our grammar system. Such radical changes must pass through the crucible of the disapproval of careful speakers and writers like you before they qualify as Standard English.

There are those who contend, “Who cares how you say or write something, as long as people understand you?” This is like saying, “Who cares what clothing you wear, as long as it keeps you warm and covers your nakedness?” But clothing does more than provide warmth and cover, just as language does more than transfer ideas. Sensible men and women know when to wear a business suit and when to throw on a T-shirt and shorts, when to dress up in a tuxedo or formal gown and when to relax in a flannel shirt and dungarees. Both clothing and language make statements about the wearer and the user.

Centuries ago, Confucius observed, “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence, there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

I side with Confucius against the kind of confusion in language that your granddaughter’s dismissive and permissive statement engenders.


DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Thanks for your recent clarification the difference between the verbs bring (direction toward the speaker/writer) and take (direction away from the speaker/writer). Shortly after your column, President Donald Trump tweeted: “We must bring those who invade U.S. back from where they came.”

Kinda funny (not ha-ha) that our fearless “leader” threatens to bring them back to Mexico the same week your article admonishes against this loathsome perversion of justice, I mean grammar. Good job, Fearless Leder. –Lawrence Morrow, Del Cerro


In May of 2019, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings will release a compilation of recordings by the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger. (If I had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”) I’m pleased to report that Seeger’s “English is Cuh-Ray-Zee,” based on my essay “English Is a Crazy Language,” will be one of them.