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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 259

or logic another thing, and Latin grammar a third, and that these three things have really, in many cases, very little to do with one another. Schoolmasters generally have an astonishing talent for not observing real linguistic facts, and an equally astonishing inclination to stamp everything as faulty that does not agree with their narrow rules.” 6 So long ago as the 60’s Richard Grant White began an onslaught upon all such punditic stupidities. He saw clearly that “the attempt to treat English as if it were highly inflected” was making its intelligent study almost impossible, and proposed boldly that all English grammar-books be burned. 7 Of late his ideas have begun to gain a certain acceptance, and as the literature of denunciation has grown 8 the grammarians have been constrained to overhaul their texts. When I was a school-boy, during the penultimate decade of the last century, the chief American grammar was “A Practical Grammar of the English Language,” by Thomas W. Harvey. 9 This formidable work was almost purely synthetical: it began with a long series of definitions, wholly unintelligible to a child, and proceeded into a maddening maze of pedagogical distinctions, puzzling even to an adult. The latter-day grammars, at least those for the elementary schools, are far more analytical and logical. For example, there is “Longman’s Briefer Grammar,” by George J. Smith, 10 a text now in very wide use. This book starts off, not with page after page of abstractions, but with a well-devised examination of the complete sentence, and the characters and relations of the parts of speech are very simply and clearly developed. But before the end the author begins to succumb to precedent, and on page 114 I find paragraph after paragraph of such dull, flyblown pedantry as this: