william english

When people get all snippy about enforcing antiquated grammar rules, all I can think of is Edmund Spenser.

In the 1590’s, some dude named Edmund Spenser decided to write a flowery epic poem, basically a transparent allegory praising Queen Elizabeth. Fair enough. He was like, “I want this work to be remembered forever, so I don’t wanna use, like, MODERN SLANG or the CASUAL DISREGARD FOR GRAMMAR or FOREIGN INFLUENCE that THESE YOUNG UPSTARTS keep using. Nobody will read or understand their stuff in the future. I know, I’ll write in the style of Chaucer, because Chaucer is a ‘well of English undefiled.’ Now my piece will be a classic of pure and untainted English. 👌👌👌”

So he wrote this semi-incomprehensible fake-Chaucer poem. But FUNNNN FACT, guess who else was writing poetry in the 1590’s? Some young upstart using modern slang and casual disregard for grammar and foreign influence named William Shakespeare. And his stuff was good enough that a huge chunk of literary education is devoted to understanding his use of language… meanwhile, who’s ever heard of a Spenser Theatre Troupe, a Spenser Studies degree, or Spenser in the Park?

So ease up on that grammar policing. Shakespeare is widely praised for his inventiveness with language, creating and popularizing tons of new words and being the first recorded example of loads of common slang terms. Let’s appreciate it when 21st-century creators do the same!

  • What I thought reading as an English major would be: Ah, let me relax under this tree in a warm sweater and read this classic piece of literature.
  • What reading as an English major actually is: I have two days to read this 500 page novel about a bunch of horrible people who I think are all cheating on each other but I'm not sure because this writing style is nearly incomprehensible.