What does Glamour have to do with Grammar?
Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that glamour, a word customarily associated with beauty or charm or a high level of attractiveness, comes from the same root as grammar; a word we customarily associate with ugliness or repugnance or a high level of repulsiveness.
These two words are like two very different looking sisters. While the one is alluring and pleasant, and we want to gaze upon her; the other is dull and unpleasant, and we don’t want to gaze upon her. As with the two sisters, you wonder how two words that arouse such naturally different emotions as glamour and grammar could stem from the same mother.
So it stands to reason that how these two words are connected is a matter of unending discussion and disagreement among linguist. Here is how the OED, which most agree is the supreme arbiter of the English language, explains how this came about:
Before you read this next paragraph, know that your life will not suffer much should you choose to live in ignorance of its content. A more glamorous version will follow this scholarly, grammatical entry.
“In classical Greek (also see) and Latin the word denoted the methodical study of literature (= ‘philology’ in the widest modern sense, including textual and æsthetic criticism, investigation of literary history and antiquities, explanation of allusions, etc., besides the study of the Greek and Latin languages. Post-classically, grammatica came to be restricted to the linguistic portion of this discipline, and eventually to ‘grammar’ in the mod[ern] sense. In the Middle Ages, grammatica and its Rom[an] forms chiefly meant the knowledge or study of Latin, and were hence often used as synonymous with learning in general, the knowledge peculiar to the learned class. As this was popularly supposed to include magic and astrology, the OF. gramaire was sometimes used as a name for these occult sciences. In these applications it still survives in certain corrupt forms, F. grimoire, Eng. GLAMOUR.”
It is probably enough to know that the word glamour came into English by way of Scotland, where it originally meant, the OED says, “Magic, enchantment, spell; esp. in the phrase to cast the glamour over one.” It made its way to beauty by way of magic, since the allure secured by magic was illusory and dangerous.
Now, as Fortune’s wheel creaks along, we appear to be circling back to a Medieval culture in which knowledge of grammar is peculiar to a learned (though neither wealthy nor prestigious) class, and in which mastery of grammar might as well be magic to those unlearned in it.
Careful of that word wizard, my dear, lest he seduce you
One of the surprising and delightful connection in the history of the English language is the relationship between glamour and grammar. The second, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is an altered version of the first. They cite an ancient association between learning and enchantment as proof. In other words, back in the day when only priests and a few educated gentry could read and write it was thought that if you were smart enough to know grammar, the basic elements of language, you might be clever enough to convert that power to allure, amaze, even seduce. Can you imagine the fear the peasantry could have of a grammar?
Grammar has taken a bit of a nosedive since then. Today grammar connotes everything that is unglamorous: absent-minded professors; fussy schoolmarms; grammazons, nagging perfectionists; pedantic correctionists; high school students asleep at their desks with stalactites of drool hanging from their lips. Long lost from grammar are the associations with power, magic and enchantment.
Bone up on your English so you, too, can be a glamorous, successful word-wizard-cum-grammarian
Is that statement entirely valid? Think successful politicians, lawyers, salesmen, or even holier-than-thou evangelists; you get the picture. So in truth, word wizards still have the power of seduction, which means the glamour of grammar is real.
This is another reason for this series. A little grammar, you’ll learn, can go a long way, and may well lead one to a lot of grammar. Good grammar, well used, can be a very sexy attribute. Is there a single one of you who would not like to be seen as sexy? Before you give a negative response to that question, remember that some synonyms for sex are charismatic and magnetic, as in charismatic or magnetic personality.
Alrightie, tell me this. How come we ain’t teachin’ good English no more? [sic]
Many old timers, dreaming of a Golden Age of learning that never existed. They wonder, why we don’t teach grammar any more. Well, we do, in school after school, classroom after classroom. A better question might be, if we teach grammar, why don’t people learn grammar? The answer is simple; we do teach grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. But all these elements of language are out of context, outside of making meaning as a reader, a writer or a speaker. By doing so, we make grammar highly forgettable.
Stop Confusion; Speak Clear English will offer another way. Every little lesson in this series will point you toward a practical application. I’ll carry that one step farther: There is no need to learn grammar if you’re not going to use it. Good spelling is useless except to represent proper words and avoid distraction of the reader. Punctuation has no value except to point the reader toward the pace, emphasis and meaning of the words. Subjects and verbs are dusty academic terms unless you can join them together with a purpose. Punctuation is the glue that binds together the structure of vocabulary and grammar that we call sentence or a paragraph or a book.
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