This is where you get to be a bigot
Talking this morning with Sheilah Kast on Maryland Morning, I suggested that for important matters—faith, morals, grammar—it is good to be latitudinarian,* and safe to be dogmatic about things that don’t count—not wearing brown shoes with a blue suit.
Let me enlarge a little on that.
Education in grammar and usage and the popular understanding of these matters have been damaged by the dogmatic rigidity of teachers and the peeving class: the insistence that there is only one “proper” form of English, the standard written; adherence to a set of “rules,” many of them bogus; and an implied and unwarranted belief that upholding such standards constitutes intellectual, social, and moral superiority.
Put that baldly, it sounds wacky. And so it is.
The latitudinarian recognizes that there are many Englishes, spoken and written, and many of what linguists call registers of English. You choose the register that is appropriate to the subject, the occasion, the audience, and the authenticity of your own voice. You allow other people their own voices. You recognize and accept the plasticity of language.
That doesn’t mean that you have to accept shoddy thinking or lack of clarity or outright dishonesty. And it doesn’t mean that you are prevented from speaking and writing as you choose. Some people seem to feel affronted when I tell them that whom is well on the way out or that the lie/lay distinction is nearly extinct., as if I were abridging their freedoms. They are perfectly free to stick with who/whom and lie/lay; I do myself. But they ought to acknowledge reality about the nature of the language and the people who use it.
Now we get to the good part: You get to be dogmatic about things that don’t matter. I insist that a martini is made with gin and vermouth, stirred. I’ve never worn brown shoes with a blue suit. I prefer Haydn and Mozart to Bruckner and Wagner, and I only ever listen to rap music when another motorist is generously sharing it. You may share these preferences or not, but it doesn’t matter.
Human beings have a need to maintain a sense of superiority. It would be dangerous and unwise for me to feel superior merely because I am white and male; you have seen where that leads.** The same for any sense of superiority based on religion or politics.
No, what you want to indulge is the soft bigotry of innocuous preferences.
*The Latitudinarians were seventeenth century Anglican divines who, F.L. Cross writes in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church gave relatively little importance to ”matters of dogmatic truth, ecclesiastical organization, or liturgical practice.”
**I wish I could remember the name of the gentleman who, being told that a support group for white males was being established, said that one already exists, called the United States of America.