Dr. NAD's Prig Page
Description: Are you an editor, author, journalist, verbivore, English major, English professor, English student, English teacher, grammarian? Assembling a style manual, writing manual? Dr. NAD's Prig Page features contest challenge quiz tests of grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and style in the English language. Submit future items. Contributors publicized. Answers are annotated. Answer by E-Z form. An interactive collection of submitted pet peeves and related links is maintained as well.

"Prig," defined

Who Cares?
The Spectrum

Steadfast prigs
Writing on the internet
The less concerned
Those in the middle
Least tasteful offenders

Current Debates
on Priggery
Here are examples

Some are not trivial
What's the big deal? Conservatism prudent

Share your thoughts?

Your Interactive

-Prigs' Pet Peeves:

-Take/Build the ...

cool sites
* strongly recommended *
Paul Brians's's
Common Errors
in English
The Editorial Eye *
Strunk-Elements o Style
Fowler- King's English
Web Wonk- Perspicuity
Rich. Lederer- Verbivore
10 Verbosities to Avoid
NC State - well indexed
even e-mail in questions

The Electric Editors

Some current debates on priggery
- commas & quotes
- possessive apostrophes
- 'a' vs 'an' with acronyms
- comma & last list item
- genderless 'he': sexist?
- as, like, such as, etc.
- 'that' vs 'which'
- split infinitives
- ending with preposition

Science prigs esp.:
Big-wig sci. editors cry
   & their advice
Temperature & kelvins
- precede with 'a' or 'an' ?
  e.g., 'a NSF' vs 'an NSF'


1prig n [prig (to steal)] (1610): THIEF

prig n [prob. fr. 1prig] (1676)  1 archaic : FELLOW, PERSON   2 archaic : FOP  
3 : one who offends or irritates by observance of proprieties (as of speech or manners) in a pointed manner or to an obnoxious degree  
-- prig.gery n -- prig.gish adj -- prig.gish.ly adv -- prig.gish.ness n
prig.gism n (ca. 1805): stilted adherence to convention

to the Prig Test
Who Cares?! The Spectrum

Steadfast prigs cling tightly to the rules of English grammar. But students of language evolution note inevitable change; "conventions" is preferred versus "rules." Writing as one speaks (e.g., split infinitives or terminal prepositions) is often effective. However, plainly logical fouls are unlikely to become acceptable ("which" for "that," "who" for "whom").
     Writing on the internet, free from editors and so forth, may madden prigs and even annoy casual readers. There are no enforced standards. But to do it well is a fresh challenge for serious authors. Web surfers seek quick info and direction. A new brand of concise, effective, but not sloppy, writing must evolve. Language will change, but its aficionados will respect a moderate pace, and change does not permit writing errors that frustrate thought.
     The less concerned seldom transgress grossly, though literacy has a lower limit. To prigs or casual readers, poor observation of standards, regardless of intent, often reveals a laziness offensive to readers, or, less benignly, a deficiency in one's knowledge. Priggery may be dismissed as disdainful elitism, but treasured readers might thus be lost. Why are standards taught so rigidly? Perhaps to prevent the annoyance, however fleeting, of having one's thoughts disrupted by a misspeling, misplaced, modifyer or coma, ommited conjunction, displaced preposition, unparallel structure.
     Those in the middle somewhere will notice that to favor priggism too heavily offends those whom one wishes to inform. On the other hand, unmeasured negligence soon leaves the middle.
     Perhaps the least tasteful offenders are wishful thinkers. Authors destined for renown are not born regularly, and are self-made even less frequently. Celebrated classic authors are granted the privilege of using language in unorthodox ways - and note that the distinction is usually posthumous. Professional writers are far less famous than they often assume. Before you take liberties and pen too fancifully, make a list of how many people simply know you, let alone your writing. If you can do that, you need to embrace conventions.
To the
to the Prig Test

to the Prig Test

"The Language Cops"
-Another essay on priggery and language conservatism vs liberalism:

"Language is a set of conventions that evolve by anarchy. True lovers of language respect both its conventions and the anarchy from which those conventions emerge."

—Tom Tadfor Little
Current Debates on Priggery

Here are examples of the current debates on priggery, held among copy editors. There are strong opposing opinions–considerably insightful–put to votes. These efforts face much the same issues as priggery. Are they esoteric? What of those not privy to the forum, or even the notion that such debates are occurring? If a publication adopts progressive practices, will its priggish readers cry "ignorant"?
    Some debated issues are not trivial nit-picking, as one might suspect. Prigs may insist on conservative conventions: "Why complicate a functional rule?" The problem is the universality of what is held to be a convention. Consider the issue of whether to place commas and periods inside or outside quotation marks? US English says inside, British says outside. Not to mention, "color" or "colour," "organize" or "organise"? It has never been an English convention that sentences cannot end in prepositions or that infinitives cannot be split.
    "What's the big deal—communication is the point, right?" As English is approaching the universal status of Roman-era Latin, peoples for whom it is a second language are continually confounded. What should primary English teachers, who seek simplified elements to teach, do?
    Conservatism may be prudent in these matters. While priggery ought to allow progress, progressive zeal serves little other than itself. Even in the information age when movements progress rapidly among the informed, conservative standards may be less risky than desires not to appear standoffish. Nevertheless, creative writers are refreshing and should be encouraged to experiment at their own risk, recognizing–to whatever extent desirable–that prigs are present. Prigs may not be the primary concern, however.

Debate examples

Commas, periods, quotation marks
It is "progressive." (US)
It is "progressive". (British)

Before acronyms: "a" or "an"
An NASA test, a NASA test
An FBI agent, a FBI agent...

Last item in a series: Comma?
Courses include economics, finance, marketing, and management.
   [4 courses]
Courses include economics, finance, marketing and management.
   [3 courses?]

The menu listed burgers, soda, beer and icecream. [new kind of float?]

Genderless "he": Sexist?
When a teacher hears laughing, how should he respond?
"There is no evidence that gender-neutral language (as in Hungary, for example) prevents sexism, or that gender-heavy language (as in Sweden, for example) promotes sexism."

As, like, such as, as though...
I own stuff such as plates, pots, ...
I own stuff like plates, pots, ...
[Do you have saucers and pans?]

She speaks as an authority.
She speaks like an authority.
[But she's not?]

That vs Which
Drink the wine that is red.
Drink the wine, which is red.

Split infinitives
He came quickly to visit patients.
He came to visit patients quickly.
He came to quickly visit patients.
(There really isn't such a "rule.")

Ending a sentence with a preposition
Tell me what it's for. It's not what I'm getting at. I see what she's up to. It's not what I'm thinking about.
There definitely wasn't such a "rule." But don't be silly:
I can't see where he's at.

Share your thoughts?

Your interactive pleasure?

Take/Build the Prig Test

Build this test interactively.
Test your knowledge.
Play using E-Z form.
Contribute items or a whole issue!
Contributors acknowledged.
Overachievers featured.
Updated regularly,
 including annotated answers.

Prigs' Pet Peeves' Page

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Let's hear ideas for improvement.
Updated regularly (last 4/3/97).

©1996 Neil A Durso, III

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