“I hate change.”
“There is no need for change.”
“I don’t want anything to change.”
Every time I stand up in front of a business writing class, and mention that some grammar rules have changed over the years (and some things you were taught were never rules at all), people begin to groan. Many of them complain about change in general, most insist the world would be much better if nothing changed.
Sometimes I ask a few questions, “How many of you drive a car that is older than 10 years?” Or, “How many of you are wearing shoes you bought in 2000?” Or, sometimes, “How many of you are still with your first love from high school?”
Occasionally, I’m in for a surprise. One person in my class has eaten the same meal for dinner for the last two years. Another has a “signature scent”–has worn the same perfume since the 80s. (Side note: perfumes in the 80s were largely sillage monsters—you could smell them a zip code away. I knew this woman had spoken the truth.)
The thing we don’t like about change is control. If we don’t choose it, if we are forced to accept change, we often don’t like it. There are notable exceptions, of course. Most people transitioned from flip phones to smart phones easily (if they had the money to do it) and wouldn’t go back.
We don’t want to lose control. Often, at work, we are not in control of how to do the job and resent it. When we get control, we hang on with the tenacity of a booby trap. We want to control how many commas we use, how many spaces between sentences, and never, ever end a sentence with a preposition (which was never a grammar rule in the first place.)
We don’t want to stop and learn new rules, we want to move ahead, unhindered. We will change if something is free, easy, or makes us look good or helps us fit in and be popular.
We abandoned girdles and pantyhose, ties and (if you are under 35) voice mail. Women still force their feet into painful shoes (and now jam bare feet into pointy stilettos) because fashion, unlike grammar, is driven by peer pressure. We want our kids to sleep late when they are young and get up early when they are older. We want to be included in hearing the gossip, but want our friends to be closed-mouthed about us.
In other words, we are OK with change if we choose it and we approve of it. And we want to refuse it if someone else wants to make us change.
Grammar changes because the culture changes. Sentences have gotten shorter because our attention span won’t put up with long, convoluted sentences. The rules of punctuation changed to keep up with communicating through emails and texting. Don’t think of grammar as getting harder, trickier, meaner. Think of it as a fashion statement you can make and be the first of your group to speak and write clearly.
And admit it, the changes you really hate are the ones Facebook makes without asking or telling you and you have to decode on your own. Me, too.
—Quinn McDonald writes the Business of Art column for Somerset Studio magazine.
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