Ben Dreyer:

One thing to add: Writers who are not so adept at linking their sentences habitually toss in a “But” or a “However” to create the illusion that a second thought contradicts a first thought when it doesn’t do any such thing. It doesn’t work, and I’m on to you.

Funny enough, I’ve recently encountered the mirror-image problem — using an agreeable word to preface disagreement. The Lady of the House has a cousin who works in marketing for a mega-corporation, and he was telling us how, in recent communication training, they were strongly encouraged to use the word “and” instead of “but” — the latter being too abrupt, too argumentative, too likely to shut down discussion and make people feel unappreciated. “And that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” you probably said, with an unwelcoming look of disdain on your face. See, that’s why you’re having trouble climbing the corporate ladder. You’re too belligerent and confrontational. Perhaps you need to try some trust-building exercises.

Elsewhere, in Sarah Lyall’s review of Dreyer’s new book, she says:

Meanwhile, the president of the United States thinks “seperation” is a word, once referred to his own wife on Twitter as “Melanie” instead of “Melania” and has explained his personal philosophy of capitalization by declaring: “I capitalize certain words only for emphasis, not b/c they should be capitalized!” (He also uses exclamation points like a text-crazed teenager, but that is another issue.)

As it happens, a reader emailed me last week, wondering if I had indeed meant to title a recent post “They Know What’s Best for You and I.” I greatly appreciated his discreet efforts to help me maintain a respectable appearance, like a pal calling your attention to the fact that you returned from the restroom with a yard of toilet paper stuck to your heel, but yes, I replied, I was quoting a lyric in that title and thus favored fidelity to the source over grammatical accuracy. (Later on in that same song, Mark Sandman sang, even more awkwardly, “They’re tryin’ to psyche us up for number World War Three.” I can’t begin to explain that one. It’s not like the modifier had to be misplaced in order to maintain the rhythm.) I added, just for the record, that I often disobey the conventional rules of capitalization in post titles as well. This is purely an idiosyncratic, aesthetic choice. Certain articles, conjunctions and prepositions just don’t look pleasing to me in lowercase, so I capitalize them. (I’ve served time as a paid copywriter, knowing and observing all the rules, so in my own space, I DO WHAT I WANT.) The alternatives — capitalizing each word or simply surrendering and going all-lowercase all the time — strike me as equally unattractive.

As recently as four years ago, I was still a practitioner of “logical punctuation,” an affectation I have since outgrown, as you can see by the fact that the previous comma resides inside the quotation marks.  I simply decided I preferred aesthetic tradition to logical precision in this instance. Sometimes my aesthetic compass leads me off toward uncharted frontiers, other times back to the warm embrace of accepted standards. That’s not to say I’m a grammatical anarchist, of course. As I told my correspondent, I tend to be a descriptivist in linguistic matters, though not a contented one. I have one client who lives in Italy, for whom English is a second or third language. Swell guy. Very gregarious and communicative. The problem is, his emails read as if they were assembled by a combination of Google Translate and a thesaurus. The words are spread across the page like highway rumble strips, or even speed bumps, which rattle my eyeballs hard enough to nearly detach my retinas as I traverse each line. Nothing makes me appreciate the rules of syntax more than staring into that abyss in my inbox. And yet we hear and read native English-speakers every day who are scarcely any more coherent. There may be no one true way to use language, but I’m convinced that some ways are more false than others.