Author: Campbell, Bruce

The Warn Coccoon of Orthodoxy

As a wannabe writer, I love the language, and how the vast vocabulary of English allows for subtle nuances of meaning and tone. To pull this type of thing off, the language needs a stable platform, with standards for grammar and syntax. So, like most old gray-haired wannabe writers, I cringe at the erosion of those standards.

The immediacy, brevity and casualness (is that even a word?) of social media communications (email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, blogs, etc.) is making spelling and grammar a mere afterthought – no more than an antiquated, obsolete notion.

When it comes to a text, or a Tweet, hey, its no big deal – it’s analogous to CB chatter (“What’ yer 20, good buddy?”). It’s jargon, and helps those immediate, brief communications be quickly understood. But it does lot lend itself to the eloquent expression of deeper thinking and logical arguments, and that is the argument for the preservation of good writing skills, appropriate for each media.

To be fair, some grammatical rules serve little or no purpose. For instance, the rules against splitting an infinitive (“to boldly go”), or not ending a sentence with a preposition date back from Latin, and adhering to those rules can actually inhibit communication. Probably the most famous example of this is the quote (usually attributed to Churchill): “This is the sort of nonsense, up with which I will not put!”.

The idea of standardized spelling is not that old, however, Noah Webster undertook the task of defining spelling for American English back in the 18th century. It was he who took the superfluous “u” out of words like “neighbour” and “colour”. He created an orthodoxy for language usage, and it was a stroke of genius – and since then, we have clung to that orthodoxy. Whether we should or not is the matter of debate. I find comfort in the consistency of the standards – it aids me in expressing myself, both on the page and when speaking.

Of course, thinking about that got me thinking about the overall notion of the comfort zone of orthodoxies in general. In an uncertain world, we like it when we can agree on some stuff, so we can work at other stuff. Religions rely on their dogmas as a way to effectively spread their message, creeds and methods. Music and art, too, have their comfort zones – our urge to define genres and categorize them is strong, indeed!

One thing that’s also true about orthodoxy - almost by definition, it discourages or even forbids innovation. I am glad I won’t be around by the time the debate over standardized spelling is over – I bet I’ll be disappointed in the outcome. But I’m just as glad to witness ongoing attempts to question, change, or overturn other established categorizations and rules – it’s how we discover exciting new ways to communicate, express ideas or persuade others.

So, when you play “Sittin’ on Top of the World”, go ahead and put that 6 minor in there, and go ahead and call it bluegrass! For 2013, see how many holes you can punch in a rulebook near you!

Posted:  1/1/2013

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email