SALISBURY, MD---From The New York Times to The Washington Post to Salon.com, book reviewers have raved about Jack Lynch’s 2009 book The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Proper” English from Shakespeare to South Park.
But then, those writers are exactly the audience he is hoping to reach: the people who care most about words and grammar.
The Rutgers University—Newark professor comes to Salisbury University on Thursday, April 1, as the next speaker in the Writers-on-the-Shore spring literary series. He speaks on “‘Sabotage in Springfield’ or ‘How a Dictionary Lost the Cold War’” at 8 p.m. in the Great Hall of Holloway Hall.
Lynch has earned Rice University’s prestigious Monroe K. Spears Award for studies in English literature. He has authored or edited 10 books and many essays on the history of the English language and its practices, including Becoming Shakespeare and The Lexicographer’s Dilemma, which The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger calls “an entertaining tour of the English language.
“While some early writers were trying to pin English down, others were contributing to its disarray, as Mr. Lynch notes. ‘Another thread to good English,’ he writes, ‘came from the poets, who, in order to get their lines to scan, had squeezed and mangled good English words until they were barely recognizable.’”
However, a more modern threat may be on its way.
According to Genzlinger, as Lynch “notes in his final chapter, the grammatical doomsayers had better find themselves some chill pills fast because the crimes-against-the-language rate is going to skyrocket here in the electronic age. There is already much whining about the goofy truncated vocabulary of e-mail and text messaging … and the Internet means that English is increasingly a global language.”
The Times, Post and Salon.com all point out that the split infinitive is a common grammatical error that drives language purists crazy—but which many writers in earlier times, according to Lynch, saw as no big deal.
“Mr. Lynch points out that the split infinitive has actually gone in and out of fashion several times, for no apparent reason,” said Genzlinger. “Shakespeare, he says, ‘has only one split infinitive in his entire body of work,’ but by the end of the 18th century, infinitives were being split right and left by the learned as well as the common folk. Then the tide shifted again, and the poor split infinitive was an outcast again.”
Salon.com summarizes the point of the book succinctly: “Lynch would like us all to calm down, please, and recognize that ‘proper’ English is a recent and changeable institution.”
Sponsored by the English Department and Writers-on-the-Shore, admission is free and the public is invited.
Upcoming authors in the series include:
• Tuesday, April 13: William Hathaway
• Tuesday, April 20: Ray Gonzalez
Books by the authors will be available for purchase and signing. For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.