Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Grammar Warrior

So there's this gentleman in England who is terribly unhappy about the decision to leave apostrophes off street signs. He is braving accusations of vandalism and tagging to make sure he lives on St. John's Close, not St. Johns Close.

Despite the fact that I love the part where he says he knows more than "a mere Corporal," I have mixed emotions about Mr. Gatward's Punctuation Crusade.

I am not much of a grammar maven. I was blessed (or possibly cursed) with a father who spoke well. I grew up speaking well. I never actually learned the rules, I just sound like I've learned them. This whole post could be full of egregious grammatical errors and I wouldn't even know. I am a total Grammar Fraud and live in constant terror of being found out.

Maybe this has made me a tad over-sensitive. While I was among the first to crack up when the barbecue restaurant had "Bowels of Chili" on its Specials board, I felt bad when a friend suggested we sneak over to a neighbor's house in the middle of night and add an "ly" to his "Please Drive Slow" sign. Or maybe I felt badly. Hell if I know. I just know he wants everybody to slow the heck down as they go around that corner so they don't run over his children.

In the end, the message is more important to me than anything else. Still, if we keep letting things slide, will we eventually end up in a place where the message is lost because we can't read it anymore?

17 comments:

Kwana said...

Nice post. I too speak well but am a total grammar fraud so I hear ya.

Molly O'Keefe said...

fantastic post! I am a total grammer disaster. Total. But I agree, the total decline of any formality is a sad thing. Soon we're all doing to be talking like we're texting each other.

Sinead M said...

I too am a grammar fraud.. a total fraud. But at the same time, there are some mistakes that kill me every single time.

"I'm doing good." it's like nails on a chalkboard for me..

Eileen said...

My sisters! I'm so glad I'm not alone.

Sinead, the one that bothers me is that "hopefully" versus "I am hopeful" thing and I think it's ubiquitous.

Maureen McGowan said...

I have such mixed feelings about this, too. I do agree that the message is the most important thing, but on the other hand, things are on the road to slipping so much that messages will eventually get lost, because grammar sometimes is needed to remove ambiguity.

Like Eileen, I was blessed to have parents and grandparents (at least one one side) who spoke well, and corrected me constantly, and I also had a couple of excellent teachers in pivotal grades who really found a way to explain certain things so they stuck. (Probably the best grammar teacher I ever had was a Chinese Canadian who'd learned English as a second language, and was therefore really great at teaching.)

Some things really grate... I too would be wanting to change that sign to badly. And I can't believe that I sometimes now answer "good" to "how are you doing?". Fifteen years ago, I NEVER would've done that. Slippery slope to grammar anarchy. ;-)

Oh, just saw your hopefully one, Eileen. I finally gave up on that one since I became a writer. I do think the meaning of that word has now changed because of people using it incorrectly.
But on the other hand... I made the executive decision 3 years ago that we'd call this blog Drunk Writer Talk, instead of Drunken Writer Talk... It should be Drunken, right?

Eileen said...

Doesn't it depend on whether "drunk" modifies "writer" or "talk"? See, I'm confused already.

The other thing that worries me is that if I run around correcting other people's grammar (except at work when it's my job), then I think I have a special responsibility to always speak and write correctly. Since I'm a Grammar Fraud, there's no way that will happen. In the words of my late husband, "if you're going to be arrogant, you'd better be damn good."

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, that's exactly the debate I had in my head... what is drunk modifying... But then if it's a modifier... shouldn't it be drunken no matter what? Then maybe I started thinking that calling someone "drunk" was grammatically incorrect, too... Although clearly accepted at this point. Clearly I am a grammar fraud, too.

I ultimately decided I didn't care.

We named this blog after one of us said something like, "Drunk Writer Talk saved my life. We should start a blog," or something equally witty (and likely slurred) after sharing drinks one night. It is true that talking about writing over drinks has pulled all of us off proverbial ledges many times.

To call it Drunken Writer Talk seemed pedantic, or something... Grammar doesn't count when you're drunk.

Eileen said...

Now THAT's a grammar rule I can live with!

Stephanie Doyle said...

I'll join the ranks of being a grammar fraud...but I still snicker when people say "irregardless".

That's like my one "insider writer" chuckle.

Steph

Molly O'Keefe said...

wait a second...I'm doing good, is wrong? And I don't even understand the hopefully/full of hope problem. Wow. I mean really - I am full of shame.

Eileen said...

I think if you do good, you're maybe doing charitable works? The hopeful vs. hopefully thing has to do with whether you're doing something with the hope that something else will happen or whether you're doing something in a hopeful manner.

I will never, however, be able to master lay vs. lie.

Maureen McGowan said...

Ha! I have lay and lie conjugated on a sticky note stuck to my computer screen. I cannot, for the life of me, no matter how many times I try to memorize it, use those verbs correctly with confidence, without double checking my trusty sticky note.

Molly O'Keefe said...

that explains it...I am always doing charitable works

Eileen said...

I WANT THAT STICKY NOTE!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Your friend needs to consult a dictionary before he embarks on vigilante vandalism. "Slow" is both an adjective and an adverb.

Eileen said...

And that is SO why it's important not to set yourself up as some kind of expert, running around correcting everyone else! It's too easy to make your own mistakes!

Maureen McGowan said...

You know, Anonymous... While I'm no expert, and while I believe there are ways to correctly use slow as an adverb, like "he walked in a slow manner" or "slow up when you drive into a town", (those examples taken directly from a dictionary), I don't think one of the "correct" adverbial usages of slow is "drive slow". Technically, it would be better to say drive slowly.

And I have consulted three dictionaries on this. The closest I got was "often used casually in place of slowly".

So, yes, in common usage it's used as an adverb these days... And I'd use it in fiction that way, particularly in direct thoughts or dialogue -- depending on the character -- but that doesn't make it grammatically correct. At least based on the small amount of research I've done.

So, I'm with Eileen's friend on this one. (And still learning not to cringe at certain common grammar mistakes my parents and teachers would NEVER have let me get away with. (with which my parents and teachers would have never let me get away. LOL)

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