There’s a prescribed order to English. Different parts of speech have different functions in a sentence, and those functions do not change: nouns form subjects and objects, verbs link them as predicates, and adjectives and adverbs modify those nouns and verbs. That part of grammar is not a matter of opinion, as far as these games is concerned. But English and its rules are not immutable; grammar changes across the years, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently! Other regions of grammar can be quite fluid. We call that style. There’s nothing grammatically unsound about ending a sentence with a preposition or using a singular they (more on that in a bit). Only our language culture puts a hold on those choices. Some of these elements of our American Style I agree with, others (see previous clause) I do not clutch to my chest so firmly. There is, in my mind, a gap between What Is Right (we call this prescriptivism) and What People Say (this is called descriptivism), but it’s not so enormous as to be unbridgeable. For our games, except for the following exceptions, I have used the Chicago Manual of Style, which was recently published in its sixteenth edition (2010).

On the use of International Phonetic Alphabet (“IPA”) pronunciation

In Smarticulation™, when we introduce a word that’s obscure, or difficult-to-pronounce, we’ll give at least one way to pronounce it, in a phonetic system called the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA. This is, perhaps self-evidently, the international standard for pronunciation guides; there’s no variation by accent or dialect or anything. In IPA, the sound /æ/, which in Standard American English is the vowel sound in the word cat, is always going to be pronounced the same way. Cat is not pronounced the same way in every part of North America, much less the English-speaking world, so defining a phonetics system based on a-as-in-cat would be stunted and parochial*. We may reflect the pronunciation patterns of Standard American English, which is largely based on the “accentless” accent of the American Midwest (also known as “Newscaster English”), but we use IPA to do it. IPA is the pronunciation guide that real dictionaries use. Any text that uses its own proprietary system is, frankly, doing you a disservice.

*Parochial: /pə.ˈro.ki.əl/ Adj. (From the Latin parochia, referring to a church parish) Limited in scope, narrowly focused.

On the splitting of infinitives

In Latin, as it is in the Romance languages that descended from it, the infinitive form of a verb (that is, the unchanged or uninflected form of it preceded by the word to), is a single word. In Latin, the word to read is legere, in Spanish, it is leer, and in French, it is lire. Since Latinate infinitives are a single word, it is impossible to divide them in half when you make a sentence, whereas in English, since an infinitive is two words (e.g., to read), you can insert a modifier in the middle: “I was content to merrily read in my living room, until the kitchen timer went off.” For the better part of a century (the Chicago Manual of Style puts it at “about 1850 to 1925”), grammarians, for the large part, insisted that splitting infinitives was grammatically improper in English. They can be right; it can be occasionally clunky to awkwardly chop an infinitive in half, but imagine what “to chop awkwardly” or “awkwardly to chop” would sound like – I think it’d be much worse.

In short, go with your gut; be confident that there is nothing unsound about a split infinitive, but use your best judgment as to whether or not you want to go boldly or to boldly go. Got it? Good.

On the use of C.E. and B.C.E.

You may notice we use C.E. and B.C.E. (the Common Era and Before the Common Era) instead of B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini). This is the accepted scholarly standard; I don’t think it’s needlessly fussy. The territory between absurd political correctness and chauvinistic cultural hegemony is respect.

On the subject of gender-neutral pronouns

I’m not sure I can think of a more hotly contested grammatical issue (now there’s a category that’s full to bursting) than the notion of the singular they. The question is: “Where is English’s gender-neutral singular pronoun?”

Once upon a time, this wasn’t a problem – any generic pronoun was male: “Any judge of good standing will tell you that he would never allow such a device into the courtroom,” or “any doctor worth his salt would tell you to elevate that leg.” We said this because, well, there were no female doctors or judges. And now there are, in great number. What do we do? It’s chauvinistic to deny the equality of women and use he and him in all situations, but so too is it reactionary to use she or her in all situations.

But egad, can he or she disrupt a sentence; s/he works fine for writing, but befuddles the tongue, and invented genderless pronouns like hir and thon A) haven’t found purchase in the lexicon, and B) sound kind of silly.

So what do you say when you have a generic person to describe whose gender is irrelevant? The linguist John McWhorter says we should use theyYou has a singular and a plural form; why shouldn’t theyYou is generic, it is sexually indistinct, and it can include one person or multiple people. I acknowledge the sensibility of using they to indicate a single person, but I cannot endorse it as bravely as Dr. McWhorter.

So we use he and she, you will notice, interchangeably, when we cannot avoid use of a singular but generic pronoun because– hey – men exist, and women exist, and they take gendered pronouns and let’s get on with our lives and deal with bigger and more urgent issues.

I wish you good luck, good leisure, and good learning. Enjoy!

– Artie