I still wonder why it's called snobbery to believe that language should have standards. But more so I wonder how I became a grammar snob, given that my own education in the subject was so bad. One year we learned about nouns and verbs, the next about Class 1 and Class 2 words, then something else, as educational fashions changed—and then I think the teachers just gave up. So nearly all I know about grammar came from French class, from reading good books, and from listening to my parents, who spoke well themselves. I still can't explain why something is right, but for the most part I know it when I hear it.

Come to think of it, maybe that's actually why I care about good grammar: if what we read and what we hear can no longer be counted on to help us intuit the rules of a language, what is to become of those whose schools fail them?

And on the point of the comic, school failed us almost at once. I can't imagine that "on accident" was actively taught, but I do know that Heather had not been in a school environment very long before the phrase became cemented in her vocabulary, so I doubt much effort was put into correcting it. Then again, maybe the teachers tried—but peer influence is so terribly strong. Certainly I tried. But as I said, I may (usually) know what's right when it comes to the English language, but I still lack the tools to be persuasive about it.

Anyway, this comic made me smile, because it gibes both ways.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 6:22 am | Edit
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If you, like, go to most any (like) college campus, you will like be astounded by like the language. And you won't, like, like it.

Posted by Eric on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 8:58 am

Likely I wouldn't!

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 13, 2016 at 9:59 am

I never heard "on accident" until I read this comic. Does that reflect my age or where I grew up (or maybe both)?

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Good question, Kathy. According to this article (from 2007), it's definitely age: "Whereas on accident is common in people under 35, almost no one over 40 says on accident. Most older people say by accident. It's really amazing: the study says that “on is more prevalent under age 10, both on and by are common between the ages of 10 and 35, and by is overwhelmingly preferred by those over 35."

If so, however, it's surprising that you never heard it from any of your students. "I spilled Coke all over my homework on accident."

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 1:35 pm

By the way, an incident this week with my kids showed me why we might say it. You do something "on purpose" so why not "on accident"? I know now, but it makes sense to the kid in me.

Posted by joyful on Monday, June 06, 2016 at 7:43 pm
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