Monday, April 07, 2008

Cut Your Hair

Grammar pedants love pouncing on the expression I’m going to cut my hair, arguing (wrongly) that this can only mean a DIY job — quite forgetting that context is as important as grammar in contributing to meaning.

For instance, in their book English in Singapore: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill, 2005) EL Low and A Brown suggest that I’m going to cut my hair ‘may sound very risky and penny-pinching to outsiders, for whom it unambiguously means that you are going to take a pair of scissors, look in the mirror and try to cut your own hair. It has an active feel to [Standard English] listeners…’ (p. 109).

No, it does not. As can been seen in the cartoon strip (in American Standard English dialogue), when the woman asks her husband, ‘Do you think I should cut my hair?’ he doesn’t wonder why she wouldn’t go to a hairdresser instead.

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