Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Fumblerules are writing rules that contradict their advice, such as "don't use no double negatives" and "eschew obfuscation" (they are thus self-referential paradoxes).

The alt.usage.english FAQ, quoting George L. Trigg, "Grammar," Physics Review Letters 42.12 (19 Mar 1979) 747-48 and William Safire, "The Fumblerules of Grammar," New York Times (11 Apr. 1979): SM4.

Here are some of Trigg's:
  1. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
  2. Just between you and I, the case of pronoun is important.
  3. Watch out for irregular verbs which have crope into English.
  4. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.
  5. Don't use no double negatives.
  6. Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.
  7. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.
  8. A writer must be not shift your point of view.
  9. About sentence fragments.
  10. Don't use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.
  11. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in series.
  12. Don't use commas, which are not necessary.
  13. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  14. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.
  15. Don't abbrev.
  16. Check to see if you any words out.
  17. In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it's A-OK.
  18. As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.
  19. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition - take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
  20. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
  21. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.
  22. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
  23. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out.
  24. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.
  25. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.
  26. Last but not least, lay off cliches.
Erratology encourages students to make (and teach) their own fumblerules to break (and learn) the disabling rules of the institution. By thus risking the authority they are lent by the institution, they exercise their sovereign right to write.

erratology: Erratology uses as a heuristic the principle that rules exist to be broken/that exceptions disprove the rule (against Cicero's exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis in his defence of Balbo [56BCE]); through erratology you can learn by making mistakes rather than proceeding by trial and error - or learning from your mistakes. It is a variant on Winston Weathers' deformative grammar, "Grammar B" (see Peter Elbow's essay, "Collage: Your Cheatin' Art").

And the same goes for writing teachers: they too must risk mistakes—and their authority . . .

Cf. Muphry's (or Merphy's) Law:
"In neither taste nor precision is any man's practice a court of last appeal, for writers all, both great and small, are habitual sinners against the light; and their accuser is cheerfully aware that his own work will supply (as in making this book it has supplied) many 'awful examples'" (Ambrose Bierce, "Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults" [1909]).

The law, as set out by John Bangsund, states that:

  1. if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
  2. if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
  3. the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;
  4. any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.
("Scenes of Editorial Life: Muphry's Law," John Bangsund's Threepenny Planet [Mar 1992])

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