Book Review: A Grammar of the English Tongue

For the past few weeks I have been borderline anal with regard to English grammar. Mere peccadilloes seem to incur my wrath. As I reflected on my thoughts, I’ve grown to realize that my anger was uncalled for. To remind myself of my fallibility, I have decided to brush up on my English grammar. This serves a two-fold purpose: first, I can sublimate my irrational anger towards the procurement of knowledge; second, by reading about wise people and their works that reflect their wisdom, I become humbled as I am reminded that I still have much to learn about the synthesis of perfect sentences.

My plan has been mostly successful: instead of being angry at others, I have directed my energies to honing my ability to speak and write in English. I’ve also realized that I had no right to judge other people’s inability to speak or write proper English seeing that I still have much to improve on.

Anyway, the book was great: despite the age of Samuel Johnson’s hortations, the work still brims with wry wit and humor. I find that his descriptions of the letter ‘Y,’ then considered a vowel, to be quite funny: ‘Y is a vowel, which, as Quintilian observes of one of the Roman letters, we might want without inconvenience, but that we have it.’

Johnson has this to say about adjectives: ‘[t]he comparison of adjectives is very uncertain, and being much regulated by commodiousness of utterance, or agreeableness of sound is not easily reduced to rules.’

While a lot of the rules and observations regarding English grammar still apply today, the asides to me were more entertaining and offered a colorful picture of what the English language was at that time. It may not be as successful nowadays as a guide for grammar, but the book is enlightening as a zeitgeist of the English language during that time.

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