Saturday, September 15, 2018
Yes, according to Geoffrey Pullum and other scholars, the 17 century poet is responsible for making us and our students crazy with silly rules:
Dryden famously invented the myth that sentence-ending prepositions are an error. Casting aspersions on a line from Ben Jonson’s Catiline, Dryden grumbles: “The preposition in the end of the sentence; a common fault with him” (see Mark Liberman’s “Hot Dryden-on-Jonson Action,” Language Log, 5/1/07). Though he admits immediately thereafter that his own prose shows the same feature; he actually knew that his own writings contained stranded prepositions, but he deprecated the construction anyway.
Nearly three and a half centuries later there are still American writers and academics who think stranding a preposition is something to feel guilty about.
But it seems Dryden was not done with his grammatical trouble-making. Two decades later William Walsh (1662–1708) sent Dryden the manuscript of his Dialogue Concerning Women, asking for comments. Dryden was complimentary but gave a few pieces of advice. Walsh should “avoid the words, don’t, can’t, shan’t, and the like abbreviations of syllables; which seem to me to savour of a little rusticity”; and of course (his views being unchanged from 1672) ending a sentence with a preposition “is not elegant.” But he also cited a new rule:
I find likewise, that you make not a due distinction betwixt that, and who; a man that is not proper; the relative who is proper. That, ought alwayes to signify a thing; who, a person.
This appears to be the earliest source for the entirely false belief that a relative clause modifying a human-denoting noun must never begin with that.
You can read more here at the Chronicle of Higher Education.