In Weeds in the Garden of Words, linguist Kate Burridge compares the English language to a garden. There are some flowers that look lovely, but your neighbor, who considers herself a gardening expert, says they are weeds. Should you follow her advice and root them up? Maybe it depends on your definition of weed.
Taking a completely different approach from verbal hygienists (Burridge's phrase) such as the ever-cranky Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves), Burridge observes the evolution of English, without making judgments. She discovers that quite often, what is now considered correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, or pronunciation, used to be considered wrong. And vice versa. Because language is always changing, it's difficult to pin it down at any point in time and declare once and for all that the double negative is wrong and that the direct object form of "who" must be "whom." When people are using "incorrect" English every day and still managing to communicate effectively, who's to say what's wrong?
Well, there are always plenty of self-appointed fusspots and arbiters of linguistic goodness (as Burridge calls them) who want everyone to follow the rules they learned when they were in school. I suspect that the only people who read that type of book are people who already know the rules and just want to catch the author in a mistake.
For those who are interested in what unpredictable routes the English language is taking, Weeds is an entertaining collection of short essays that Burridge originally presented on the radio. She explores new words such as "earworm," a term for the tune you get into your head and can't get out. She muses over new trends such as the tendency to pronounce words such as "assume" as "ashoom." And she compares the different ways English is used in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in Australia (Burridge is Australian).
As a recovering stickler, I enjoyed reading this enthusiastic celebration of English in all its forms.