There are many difficult people to argue with - but the most difficult by far are the grammar sticklers, the people who correct you over split infinitives, or your use of the word "irregardless".
It's just impossible to argue with these people. You can't tell them that sometimes infinitives sound better when they're split - like in Star Trek's "To boldly go".
These grammar sticklers are the people who go mental when you use a double superlative like "very warmest wishes". They start frothing at the mouth when you use "less" rather than "fewer". They go into complete conniptions at the use of phrases such as "She was sat".
And most of the time, you've just got to soak it up, as the sticklers flaunt their education and put the Grammar Dunces firmly back in their box.
"Oi! Grammar Dunce! Get back in your box!"
This week sees the publication of a brilliant new book, Accidence Will Happen, by Britain's King of Grammar, Oliver Kamm. King Kamm writes on all things grammatical for The Times. His book is a complete boon for anyone who loves English and who has an ear for the rhythm of words. We may not know all the rules of grammar, but we certainly know what sounds right.
Kamm gives you chapter and verse on why it is perfectly acceptable to split your infinitives. Why "double superlatives" are more than just kosher - they can greatly improve your prose. And why, say, phrases like "She was sat" are perfectly grammatical.
For a long time, English grammar has been a tool for snotty middle-class people to put the riff-raff back in their place. They may not be able to call you an ignorant slob, but there's nothing they like more than correcting your grammar.
What Kamm spells out is that a lot of these grammatical rules are nothing more than superstition. Kids from forty years ago were brought up not to egregiously split their infinitives, and that's what they're still barking out today.
But the rule on "Split Infinitives" is just bunkum. It's tosh.
And now - thanks to Kamm's book - we can tell these grammatical sticklers precisely where to get off. I cannot wait!
Kamm doesn't just have the facts at his finger-tips, but he also has the relevant quotes. In the case of the heinous "double superlative", he's quoting Shakespeare, Julius Caesar - "the most unkindest cut of all."
As I read Kamm's book, I was filled with this rich glow of delight. Words like "irregardless". I remember one of my mad-masters yelling at me: "That is not a word - and if you're going to use it, write, 'Irre-Goddamn-Gardless'."
When in fact... Irregardless is a word. It's in the dictionary - the Oxford English Dictionary. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!
Double negatives - that's another one that the sticklers love to nail you on.
And up until now, all you've been able to do is wriggle and writhe and take the stickler's medicine.
Not any more though. Just buy this book - BUY THIS BOOK - and stick it down the sticklers' throats! Double negatives are more than just fine; they can help to reinforce a negative. Look at Mick Jagger and his "Can't get no satisfaction".
Stick it to the Sticklers!
What is so insufferable about the sticklers is that they will brook no argument. They primly purse their mouths. They stop you mid-anecdote and then they trot out this mealy-mouthed line that they have been using for decades and decades: "I think you mean 'fewer' rather than 'less."
These sticklers are grammatical dinosaurs who are stuck in the same rut of rules that they learned at school.
And guess what! The English language is in a constant state of flux! It's changing all the time. It is true that "irregardless" did not use to be a word - but now it damn well is!
It is also true that "decimate" used to mean destroying just one in ten, but that meaning has changed. It now means a total massacre.
And thanks to Kamm, King Kamm, we people who genuinely love English now have the weapons to come right back at the sticklers. Take them on their own ground.
With the word "decimate", for instance, you can tell the sticklers that they are suffering from an "etymological fallacy". They are confusing a word's origins with its current meaning. The word "decimate" is indeed based on the Latin - but guess what, folks! It's meaning has changed!
That is not to say that Kamm is suggesting a total free-or-all with the English language. But he is a much needed antidote to all the grammar martinets who, for years and years, have held total sway over the English language, as they harrumph at how standards are declining.
But standards of English are not declining - they are just constantly evolving. That is what happens with a vibrant language. Meanings change and so do the rules of grammar.
Most English speakers do not know formal rules of grammar; instead we have an instinctive grasp for what sounds right - and, much more importantly, what sounds elegant.
All too often in the past, we have been prey to these ill-mannered, ill-tempered grammatical nit-pickers who positively delight in telling us how ill-educated we are.
Not any more though! Accidence Will Happen is an absolute must for those of us who love our English but who have never had a formal armoury of grammar to stick it right back to the sticklers.