Jan Freeman, the excellent Boston Globe language columnist, spent a couple of recent columns relentlessly mocking the absurdity of invented diktats about what shouldn’t be said. “Rule by whim,” from December 21, gives examples of some of the things crazed rulemongers have pulled out of thin air: not should not conclude a sentence, we should “reserve wholesome for food, healthful for living conditions, and healthy for living beings,” you can’t use over for more than, and my personal favorite:
It reminded me of a recent e-mail from Kevin, whose high school English teacher had a similarly inventive usage theory. She rejected the sentence “The pitcher threw no strikes,” he recalled: “She asked me to show her how to throw ‘no strike.’ She said the correct way to say it would be, ‘The pitcher didn’t throw any strikes.’ ”
This doctrine, of course, was just plain nutty. No in this construction means “not any,” as it has since Old English. No grammarian or usagist has banned it. Yet Kevin was successfully browbeaten: “For years I avoided writing things such as “The store had no bananas,” “I have no opinion,” “I ate no onions,” he wrote.
Mind-boggling! And in her December 28 column, “The language dustbin,” she goes back a century to look at some of the things the pedants of yesteryear tried to get us to eschew, like “presidential campaign” and “blame on”: “Indefensible slang. We blame a person for a fault, or lay the blame upon him. Not, as in a New York newspaper, after the last Presidential election, ‘I do not blame the defeat on the President,’ but ‘I do not blame the President for the defeat.'” Again, my favorite bit:
Sleuth “denotes the track of a living creature, in particular the track of a wild animal. . . . In a semi-humorous way the newspapers commonly mention a detective as a sleuth; their readers, not thinking of the humor, take sleuth to be a regular synonym of detective. The only meaning the word has in sober English is track or footprint.” (Joseph Fitzgerald, “Word and Phrase: True and False Usage in English,”1901)
Keep it up, Jan!