Authority & American Usage

David Foster Wallace gives an outside perspective on writing in this piece. He believes that there’s SNOOTs (Syntax Nudniks of Our Time) in this world, or people who know what dysphemism is and let you know it. These people are ones that resemble Conservatives. Wallace portrays a negative vibe towards these people and believes that we should not become like them. Wallace does not keep the reader bored because he proposes many hooks and questions. He points out some problems of writers which can be rather interesting. The people should have a Democratic spirit, “one that combines rigor and humility.” They should also be Descriptivists, or people that reject “conventional usage rules in English” and confuse regularities with norms. They use the scientific method without being judgmental, qualities that any liberal contains.  Even the dictionary should be descriptive and not prescriptive. However, as appealing as being a Descriptivist is, David Wallace believes that it is impossible to achieve. So, being a Prescriptivist sounds better now even though they are closer to SNOOTs. Within these two ways of life, there’s many different dialects that people will get criticized for or judged. Wallace comments that a dialect is, “learned and used either because it’s your native vernacular or because it’s the dialect of a Group by which you wish to be accepted.” He thinks that teachers and some students are very rigid and SNOOTs who rely too much on what was taught to them in their childhood. These people are “stupid” and do not teach their students wisely. The teachers should provide honest arguments for why a certain dialect is actually worth learning. Wallace’s statements make me think about whether I would be a Descriptivist or Prescriptivist or whether I’m constantly  learning foreign dialects even if I’m reading English. This foreign dialect can be considered Standard Written English or SWE as Wallace calls it. This SWE is something we use everyday and how we communicate with others. If we don’t agree with it, we will still have to use it and be around it. Wallace lets his readers know that there will always be two conflicting opinions and we can choose a side, but the other side will always remain whether we like it or not.


2 thoughts on “Authority & American Usage

  1. Hi Ali!

    I loved how you talked about the “SWE”. It got me thinking about how coming to college resulted in me picking up even more “dialects” of the English language from the other students surrounding me. I was wondering if you noticed that too? First semester I always found it so funny listening to classmates talk to one another whether they come from Hawaii, Florida, Brazil or Africa. Everyone spoke “English” but it is so true our dialects differ greatly. I know I always got made fun of for saying “wicked” because that is apparently only a New England term??? I liked the point you emphasized about how even if we don’t agree with the Standard Written Language, we need to use it and be around it. I agree and I just found it relatable and interesting! 🙂

  2. Hi Ali,
    I really like how you focus on the different types of dialects and such. I too found this interesting. Its weird how there are so many different dialects that make it hard to create a universal English dictionary.Also, the reading got me thinking about which side I lie on, too.

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