As with just about anything of significance, myths plague the English language. Let’s look at a few
By any measure, the English language is a very successful tongue. It’s spawned perhaps the richest and most varied literature in history; acts as the global lingua franca for business, science, and government; and nearly one billion people speak it.
It comes as no surprise, then, to find that a mythology has built up around the language. Some of those myths have basis in fact; others are the result of snobbery, or the thoughtless misapplication of rules for other languages. Let’s look at an example of each.
Myth #1: English is a form of German overlaid with French.
Though it simplifies reality somewhat, this assertion isn’t far off the mark. The Norman Conquest of 1066 diverted our originally Germanic language for centuries, enriching Old English with many French-style words, spellings, and usages.
Arguably, this hybrid nature represents English’s greatest strength. English has a huge vocabulary as a result (about 250,000 basic words at last count), allowing greater shades of meaning, specificity, rhyme, and rhythm; and it’s always willing to assimilate words from other languages as needed.
Myth #2: Only the British speak proper English.
While this statement might seem reasonable, it’s untrue. Proper is in the eye of the beholder. Per above, English is an amazingly versatile language that can adapt to any situation. While some versions may be mutually unintelligible (at least at first), they’re just dialects of a basic mother tongue.
Every local brand of English is as valid as any other, as long as it gets the point across.
Many Brits of all classes believe Americans/Aussies/the Irish, etc. are ruining English. But the changes they’re annoyed about are just normal linguistic evolution. English’s strength is that it can easily evolve, and isn’t kept stagnant by formal “language academies” as some languages are.
And which language is on top of the world at the moment, hmm?
Myth #3: It’s bad English to split infinitives.
Most English verb forms begin with the participle “to”: to be, to do, to kiss. To split an infinitive is to place a descriptor between the “to” and the verb: to boldly go, to bravely do, to sweetly kiss.
Many commentators argue against doing this… but why? It doesn’t hurt the phrase, and in many cases, it even helps. So where does this silly rule come from?
Some argue that it’s misapplied from Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages (including Spanish and French). But infinitives in those languages are always one word; no “to” is added. So splitting an infinitive isn’t bad Latin or French — it’s just not possible.
So it doesn’t make sense to apply the rule to English… and why should a rule from a Romance language apply to the English language anyway?