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ChicagoManual: “grammar zombie rules”

September 11, 2013

From the most recent Q&A at Chicago Manual of Style:

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you Google “grammar superstitions” or “grammar zombie rules,” you might be surprised at how many of your own habits are out of date!

It seems many people are doing that search for “grammar zombie rules” and if searched without quotes then this blog shows up as the top hit and top images because of my post: “Zwicky’s Zombie Rules of Grammar” about linguist Arnold Zwicky.

zombie grammar rules arnold zwicky zombies

Also mentioned in that post was John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun. Today McIntyre posted “Rules and non-rules“:

Superstitions: The things Arnold Zwicky calls “zombie rules”—no stranded prepositions, no split infinitives,none always a singular—have been exploded and rejected, not only by the descriptivist tribe, but by a multitude of informed prescriptivists. And yet, given a ghastly immortality by generations of defective schoolroom teaching, they persist against all reason, eating into people’s brains.

zombie john mcintyre baltimore sun zombie grammar superstition

McIntyre provided a list of “zombie rules” and rules “not yet dead” in a March article “Chronicles of wasted time“. He leaves open with “room for judgment” the issue of passive voice:

Bad for concealing responsibility. Good when it is not known who performed the action or the identity of the person(s) performing the action is of minor importance.

Regarding passive voice, a blog post from Margo Kelly entitled “Zombie Grammar Rules” that is probably also receiving a traffic boost from the CMOS googling suggestion, refers to Zwicky but also a quote from Rebecca Johnson:

“If you can insert “by zombies” after the verb, you have passive voice.”

Meanwhile it seems Professor Zwicky’s wordpress “blog has been archived or suspended for a violation of our Terms of Service.” — Not sure what that’s about… I maybe guess maybe some rules still have consequences…

Recall also: “Are there rules for zombies?

And thanks to arthursmithdigital’s “A Few Reasonable Words” post: “Modest Pleasures: The CMOS Q&A on Grammar Zombie Rules” for helping me figure out why my blog was getting so many hits these last two days. Until I figured it out, I thought maybe it was just zombie traffic; See today in Forbes: “As Websites See More Zombie Traffic, The Bots Now Come From Southeast Asia” by Alex Konrad.


From → Academics

One Comment
  1. Hey, thanks for the mention! Great post. 🙂

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