Not long ago I got an e-mail from someone who said he had noticed that I ended a sentence with a preposition. He told me how his English teachers often chastised him for doing that. So he asked me if the rules have changed or if all my English teachers were now deceased.

Well, most of my instructors have passed on to that great teachers’ lounge in the sky, but as far as I knew, the rules were the same. But, I also told him that I didn’t always go by the rules, especially those I thought were silly. And I told him that rules and laws are not always the same thing — that you can’t get arrested for ending a sentence with a preposition, although I did hear about an inmate who ended his sentence with a proposition.

I’m not suggesting that the fundamentals of English composition are a waste of time. Quite the contrary, I think they are sound for the most part. And when I was in school, I went strictly by the rules, though one teacher did tell me once that I was shaping up to become a nonconformist. And I’m glad she didn’t write that down because in today’s climate “nonconformist” might spark the interest of Homeland Security.

You might have noticed that I just began a sentence with “and.” Another rule I ignore.

I told this person that effective communication is important, and I stressed the word “effective.” I also told him that given the language of the day — dominated with grunts, groans, gestures and the machinations of some kind of hip-hop vocabulary — that ending a sentence with a preposition should be the least of his worries.

Now I’m careful about this. My rule is simple: If it sounds okay and if it’s conversational, then I’ll use it. For instance, I would not ask, “Where is it at?” However I will ask, “Where are you from? That flows much better than to ask, “From whence do you come? That’s getting pretty close to, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

You see, man invented language so he could ask directions to the volcano festival — the belching smoke and exploding cinders high in the sky not being enough of a clue. Man also invented mathematics so he could keep up with how many wives, oxen, servants and children he had or had traded at that festival. When it got up to King Solomon, it was called advanced math.

Music, on the other hand, was provided raw and free in nature with the songs of the birds, the wind whistling in the trees etc. In that venue, man had to mimic. So he constructed flutes, drums and the steel guitar.

So to this person, I said that what works is generally what is right.

I offered more examples. Take Willie Nelson, I said. This guy drags his notes so bad when he sings, his band literally has to embrace the old saying, “jump in and hang on.” But it works for Willie to the tune of millions of dollars. Music teachers cringe.

Kris Kristoferson has the voice of a frog. But he has written and recorded many hit songs.

The late Roger Miller even invented words and phrases like “My uncle used to love me but she died,” “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd,” and “sugar is sweet and so is maple syrpul.” His voice often sounded like a train braking on a down hill run. He broke all the rules and laughed all the way to the bank.

So ending a sentence with a preposition is not the worst thing one can do. It’s not nearly as bad as putting mayonnaise on Spam or throwing away your lunch because you discovered it was imitation Vienna sausage — it can be used for bait, you know.

I told the fellow that I hoped I had been of some help and to call me any time if there was something I could help him with.

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