So I'm like, 'Who Needs This Grammar Stuff?' (Social Attitude toward Grammatical Errors Varies Greatly as the Language Becomes Less Formal)(2000 the Millennium Notebook)(Column)

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THIS IS A SENTENCE THAT some people would not put up with. Those who take their grammar seriously frown upon sentences that end in prepositions, much as they spring to correct anybody who'd dare to casually split an infinitive. If you're the sort of person who might say "between you and I," look out. Newspaper columnist Mary Newton Bruder, perhaps better known as The Grammar Lady, is currently spearheading a campaign to help stop "personal-pronoun abuse," which may not be as serious a problem as, say, drug abuse, but which has ramifications nevertheless. "The situation has gotten out of hand," she writes on her Web page Stamp Out Bad Grammar. "If we don't stop it now, this travesty will become part of the standard language."

If Bruder and her fellow grammar cops seem a little touchy these days, they've got good reason. People are out to get themor at least ignore them. "Most of the grammar niles are already dead or dying," says Joseph Williams, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of Chicago. Students' language skills in general seem to be on the downswing, he says. "I used to say that every year, but I never really meant it until the last few years." Michael Manson, executive director of the northeast chapter of the Modern Language Association, predicts the demise of the apostrophe within 50 years. Today's students, he says, can't get the rules straight. "It's incomprehensible to them where and when to use them," he says.

Traditionalists will wring their hands, but if standard English mutates beyond recognition in the new millennium, not everyone will mourn it. "A lot of the rules governing good standard English are just folklore," says Williams. Many of today's grammatical conventions are relatively recent inventions, anyway. Shakespeare's name, for instance, used to be spelled a variety of ways with little fuss. After all, language is not like physics--there are no incontrovertible natural laws that govern it. "The Ivy League fretting about misuse of 'hopefully' has more to do with someone's idea of manners than with language and meaning," says Richard Lanham, a retired UCLA English professor. …