The Awful Consequences of Prescriptivism.

From A Hack’s Progress (J. Cape, 1997), the autobiography of Phillip Knightly (this takes place in Fiji):

The new editor, another New Zealander, drove Hanrahan, the sub-editor, mad with lectures on pedantic points of grammar. Late one night, overcome by the heat and tension, Hanrahan listened to half an hour on the use of the pluperfect, then snatched a painting off the editor’s wall and smashed it over his head. Understandably, he was fired. The printers, who had more to do with Hanrahan than with the editor, went on strike in his support. The clerical staff, who had more to do with the editor, went on strike in his support. Since I comprised the whole of the editorial staff, I had to choose which picket line to join, and since I was a paying guest in Hanrahan’s house, I joined him.

The proprietors, under pressure from the Government not to allow either strike to succeed because of the example it might set the native workers, sacked everyone and shut the paper down for good.

Let that be a lesson to peevers to at least be careful how they rant, and to whom! Thanks to Paul for both the quote and the subject line of his e-mail, which I have shamelessly stolen for my post title.


  1. How I longed to do something like that to the idiot revise sub on the Times (of London) who insisted (that) all clauses that could be introduced with “that” HAD to be introduced with “that” – so, eg, “He said he had gone downstairs”, while perfectly grammatical English, according to him had to be “He said THAT he had gone downstairs.” Putting in all the extra “thats” (that) the reporters had left out usually made the story at least one or two lines longer than the space allocated for it, which meant more timewasting trying to make it fit by cutting extra words out – but not the “thats”, of course ….

  2. OT: you might find this Russian article about Moscow street signs amusing.

  3. “Moxovaya ulicza”!

  4. Xoxlovskaya ploshhad’ sounded vaguely Aztec to me. And I loved the “s Pashoi” joke.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, wow, that’s an eldritch abomination concocted from scientific, Türkmenbaşy and 19th-century Hungarian. Plus the typically German stupidity of using the grave accent (`) instead of the apostrophe (‘) because it’s a tad easier to see on the keyboard and looks a bit more like it’s at the top of the line.

  6. The point of this transliteration method seems to be to transliterate all possible Cyrillic alphabets simultaneously.

    …just in case some Moscow street has a name in Macedonian, Udmurt, or Avar.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    But that’s not what those street signs use. ISO 9 is a transliteration in the strictest sense of the word, using one Latin letter (with however many diacritics it takes) to represent one cyrillic letter; no shh or cz.

  8. ISO 9 is primarily intended for bibliographical purposes, for libraries that may need to represent any possible book or author title in Latin script in a reversible manner. There are similar bibliographical systems for arbitrary Arabic writing.

  9. My one quibble is with the title of the post, which should be “A Totally Awesome Consequence of Prescriptivism.” Oh, so not believing this bullshit makes me a philistine? Okay . . . I’ll roll with it.

  10. Stefan Holm says:

    It seems like we have a long way to go trying to establish a commonly accepted transcription of Cyrillic into Latin. The Хохловская площадь for instance would today be in:

    English: Khokhlovskaya ploshchad’
    German: Chochlowskaja ploschtschad’
    Swedish: Chochlovskaja plosjtjad’

    To unite upon the fricatives with the help of diacritics or upon the y-j or v-w issues would need an almighty prescriptivist I’m afraid.

  11. @Stefan Holm: Slavicists the (roman-using) world over write Xoxlovskaja ploščad, which has the virtue of being unsuitable for any actual roman-using language. Long ago when I was in grad school, a later-famous Russian literary theorist was an obscure subject of specialists who almost always called him “Baxtin.”

  12. Ploščad’ of course.

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