Taylor Swift’s real offense against grammar

Taylor Swift made headlines earlier this week — including on this very blog — for defiantly challenging Princeton Review’s allegation that one of her songs contains a grammatical error:

Taylor Swift grammar

That story produced considerable backlash — again, including on this very blog — from grammarians interested in clarifying that Taylor Swift’s actual lyrics still contain a serious grammatical error:

“I appreciate her response, but the question on the grammar still holds true,” [Princeton Review SVP-publisher Rob] Franek said. “If we look at the whole sentence, it starts off with ‘somebody,’ and ‘somebody,’ as you know, is a singular pronoun and if it’s singular, the rest of the sentence has to be singular.”

But even that allegation has come under criticism. Eugene Volokh notes over at the Washington Post:

[T]he “you can’t use ‘they’ with a singular term such as ‘somebody’” objection is, I think, overstated. As I’ve noted here and here, leading writers have used “they” as a singular pronoun for centuries . . . English teachers can of course rightly teach students that some people still object to the term (I sometimes note this for my students). SAT prep companies can and should teach students about what the SAT graders expect. Calling the “somebody”/”they” match “bad grammar,” though, strikes me as mistaken, especially when one is referring to colloquial usage.

In other words, people talk just like Taylor sings, so Princeton Review should, in the words one One Direction member* once directed at Swift, “Hashtag get over it.”

*I’m super topical!

Which brings me to the point of this post: While Swift may or may not have been mistaken about the grammar in Fifteen, she committed an equally egregious offense in the process of expressing her indignation over the accusation (visible in the screenshot above): “#ACCUSE ME OF ANYTHING BUT DO NOT ATTACK MY GRAMMAR”. I’m obviously here to complain about the hashtag.

Listen, Taylor: Just because there’s no character limit on Tumblr doesn’t mean you can put a space between every word of your hashtag. Or, alternatively, if you were only trying to attach the hashtag to “accuse”, that’s also pretty nonstandard usage. Either way, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t just go around breaking the rules of hashtag grammar, and the ones you put together are definitely not kosher.

And yes, hashtags are used today as punctuation, which means they have grammar that can influence the meaning and structure of a sentence. Much as we may all dislike the runon-sentence-as-hashtag, especially at times like these —

one direction trending

— this is the world we live in, and these are the hands we’re given. Which is to quote a song by neither Taylor Swift nor One Direction. Hashtag get over it.


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