Modest Pleasures: The CMOS Q&A on Grammar Zombie Rules

The Chicago Manual of Style puts out a monthly Q&A that is both droll, and well punctuated.  One of this month’s questions sent me scrambling to Google, where I found, to my shock, that it is okay to do many of the things that unhinged my 9th grade English teacher.

The query in question:

Q. In the August Q&A, you did not correct the correspondent’s misuse of the word entitled (“a poster authored with Smith entitled ‘Measuring . . .’”). Were you just being kind, or did you not want to distract from the question being asked?

A. You might prefer the more economical word title in your own writing, but entitle is widely used, and many writers think it makes a better verb. The belief that entitle must not be used in place of title is one of many spurious “zombie rules” clung to by writers and editors and teachers. If you Google “grammar superstitions” or “grammar zombie rules,” you might be surprised at how many of your own habits are out of date!

I did just that and found the Baltimore Sun, no less, giving up the ghost on “who” and “whom,” being (too) tolerant of lapses in observing the distinction between “which” and “that,” and (sort of) smiling on the use of they/their as singular. Oh the horror!  This from John E. McIntyre, a past president of the American Copy Editors Society!

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 8.13.41 AM
The Government Printing Office Style Manual of yesteryear, when rules were rules, and no infinitives were ever split.

2 Replies to “Modest Pleasures: The CMOS Q&A on Grammar Zombie Rules”

  1. I kind of get entitled and titled, but giving up on who/whom and using they/their as singular is still not OK in my book. Some understanding of direct objects and subject/verb agreement is pretty key to clear communication, imho, even in these days of miracles and wonder….

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