Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Politics & English Grammar

Pundits are offering all sorts of reasons to explain why Democrats won and why Republicans lost. Most of these explanations are of very little interest to writers, but the real reason certainly is.

It’s simple: The GOP loves Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA.” Naturally, we have no grievance with an artist, or even a country music singer, expressing his religious beliefs through his craft. Our problem with this song is that its chorus relies on a mixed construction. As Diana Hacker explains, a writer “should not begin with one grammatical plan and then switch without warning to another.” But look what Greenwood does:

And I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free.

The first line proclaims his pride in being something; but in the second line, the pronoun “where” refers to a place. (As you can see, this grammatical situation is slightly more complicated than the standard pronoun/antecedent disagreement.) If the lines ran, “I’m proud to be an American / ‘Cuz at least I know I’m free” or “I’m proud to be in America / Where at least I know I’m free,” we wouldn’t be bothered; but they don’t, so we are.

It’s fine for writers to occasionally slip into a mixed construction. It happens to the worst of us. But Greenwood recorded his, he sings it every day, and he spreads it like a usage virus. Whenever anyone sings this song, they’re participating in and perpetuating Greenwood’s grammatical sin.

The Gods of Grammar will not stand for it. They have shown their displeasure in the last two elections. If the GOP doesn’t distance itself from Greenwood, it will soon be eclipsed by the Green Party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That old Republican Daniel Webster disagrees with you. My Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.) states that the word where can be informally used in place of whereas.

If we accept cuz then surely we can be happy with an informal where.

I'm sure William F. Buckley is in Heaven--if Catholics truly go there--looking down with dismay.