The Decline of Grammar

A weekend Atlantic archive classic: Geoffrey Nunberg's 1983 essay on the changing nature of grammar and its police:

The point of traditional grammar was to demonstrate a way of thinking about grammatical problems that encouraged thoughtful attention to language, not to canonize a set of arbitrary rules and strictures. And in the absence of an academy, our authorities traditionally were chosen by the consensus of a public that recognized questions of grammar as worthy of constant consideration and revision. But the new attitudes toward grammar -- as evidenced by the ossification of the rules and the partisan tone of the discussion -- have put the whole matter on a different footing. Prescriptive grammar has passed out of the realm of criticism, where it sat for two hundred years, to become instead a branch of cultural heraldry.