We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
I'm embarrassed to say that I missed two, but I'd only admit to one of those being a serious error: I mistakenly chose "principle" rather than "principal" in the phrase "the principal reason," mainly because I wasn't thinking clearly at that moment.
My other mistake was a "that" and "which" question. The "that" and "which" distinction was popularized partly by Strunk and White's advice that one should go "which-hunting," but, like much of Strunk and White's advice, I'd agree with Joseph Williams of the University of Chicago who says that most of the so-called distinction between the two when it comes to usage is folklore rather than solid fact. Williams writes: "This 'rule' is relatively new. It appeared in 1906 in Henry and Francis Fowler's The King's English. The Fowlers thought that the random variation between that and which to begin a restrictive clause was messy, so they just asserted that henceforth writers should (which some exceptions) limit which to nonrestrictive clauses.
I got all 22, and it's crap. These are only social signals*, not any measure of correctness. Knowing these things does show that one cares enough about appearances and impression to make the effort to learn what other, powerful people think is correct - and that is certainly a useful bit of information for an employer or manager to make note of. But they are not correct in any other sense.
You don't have to be deeply committed to Theory, or cultural relativism, or postmodernism to get this. You only need a smattering of actual study in linguistics or history of the English (or any other) language to see how quickly this idea of correctness trips over itself and becomes ridiculous. We have had different rules for what is correct in 1800, in 1850, in 1900, and 1950. In between, people sneered at the "ignorant" who hadn't learned the artificial conventions (its/it's, that/which) the enlightened decided they liked better, usually for purely regional reasons.
A favor, please. Before you write to disagree with me with some argument that you are sure is powerful and I haven't considered, consider the possibility that someone else may have tried the same argument before.
* I approve of such signals, and can articulate the circumstances for "If I were..." versus "If I was..." and why the Oxford/Princeton comma is superior to leaving it out, and taught same to my children. But if you allow yourself to get caught in these traps, you will -unavoidably - look down on others who may be smarter than thee.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
AVI, I am familiar enough with sociolinguistics and the history of language to agree with your point, though I prefer to view the usage of such conventions as pragmatically useful, not just because of the signaling function you cite, but also because it is intellectually helpful to be able to distinguish between its and it's and their, there, and they're in written language.
I also thought I'd use your comment to once again mention Joseph Williams, whose book Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace features a lot of truly practical advice about style and clarity, as well as a good debunking of linguistic folklore which talented writers frequently ignore (e.g. that/which, splitting infinitives, etc., etc.).
I got them all the first time. It was drop-dead easy!... Well except for the three or four... well maybe it was five... Shucks, I lost count. But I did get the I/me questions! My mom would be proud! :-)
An excellent corrective to my comment, and thanks for the link.
I would add that a rearguard action to slow change in language is an entirely respectable endeavor, as it helps us understand the nuances of the writing of previous generations, and hence have greater access to both their beauty and wisdom. Shakespeare and KJV have passed from "essentially understandable" to "require marginal notes" in my lifetime. Inevitable, of course, but we slow the loss as we can. Had they not dominated the language and phrasing for so long, they would have required it long ago.
Compare the slightly earlier Geneva Bible or Shakespeare's contemporary, Marlowe. We can catch the sense, we know most words, but we can see easily that we are missing the understanding because words have changed.
Assistant VIllage Idiot