Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wrestling With My Better Grammar Angels

Being a writer with a day job as an editor is a recipe for madness, because, inevitably, the little quirks of everyday language that most people would never, ever notice stand out like a garishly lit billboard in Times Square. I get a tad irked when "which" is used without being preceded by a comma as is grammatically correct in 99% of its usage. I'm irritated when sentences end in prepositions like "with" to the point that I've spent upwards of 10 to 15 minutes rewriting a sentence to try and avoid it only to (usually) fail. And the whole who/whom thing bugs me from time to time even though 9 times out of 10, I'm getting it wrong myself. Like any good editor, the urge to correct such errors is nigh irresistible.

It's tough because so much of our spoken language is grammatically incorrect and that's before we start looping in slang and urban and regional dialects. These days, there's almost a negative connotation to it and if you insist on proper grammar use in everyday conversation, you'll quickly get tagged as an elitist snob or something of that ilk. I wonder when it became a bad thing to insist on the "King's" English, so to speak. Probably about the time we picked up muskets and pointed them across the pond.

I was buying cat food the other day – or cat fud as I tend to write it on my shopping list thanks to an old Boynton cartoon. Yes, I make a list. I'm not completely undomesticated. At the checkout counter, one of those paw shaped magnets caught my eye. "Who Rescued Who?" it asks. Charmed, I bought it for the CR-V. It wasn't until a few days later when I was loading groceries that I looked at it, smiled as I always do, and then thought, "Shouldn't it be Who Rescued Whom?"

Well that was that. Seriously, people, it would not leave me alone. Finally, I caved and asked my boss to weigh in. No kidding, we spent ten minutes debating it on the phone and she even suggested I look it up in our AMA style guide. I managed to restrain myself from that level of craziness, but it was a near thing. And I only managed to do that because I decided the magnet was wrong. It should definitely be "Who Rescued Whom?" and that's all I have to say on the matter.

Except it taunts me. Each and every time I swing open the back gate to the CR-V, there it is, waving its irregular usage at me like discount shoes in the wrong size.

To put the cheeky thing in its place, I'm on the hunt now for a magnetic "M" of sufficient size to tack onto its end. That'll teach it to mess with me.

This grammar stuff ain't for the weak, you know.


  1. *bangs head on desk*

    I hear ya, sistah! (giggles) I'm still trying to teach my co-workers the difference between your-you're and to-too-two. It can drive a person insane.

    By the of my favorite things to do while reading a book is to find the inevitable typo within its pages. It's like a game. :)

  2. My mother always corrected our speech. Grammer was very important to her. It made me crazy. I carried on with the tradition, much to my horror. I am my mother.

  3. At least you look something up if you're not sure if it's correct! I'm working with a project manager who quite fancies himself as an editor. He tends to leave notes in my chapters, little gems such as "this should be in the active voice." Which would be fine it had been written in the passive voice. Turns out what he actually meant was that he wanted it written in second person rather than third. Argh!

    Okay, venting done. I feel a bit better now :)

  4. Yes, I know I spelled grammar wrong. Grammar was important to her as well as spelling correctly. My mother would be tsking away.

  5. I spelled grammar wrong. I can hear my mother tsking and the finger wagging.

  6. Oh, I'm so pleased to hear I'm not the only wackado out there who can't get away from these urges!

    Carol - no worries. there's not judgment here, only love. Mostly because I literally had to police myself on that issue as I wrote this post.

    Stormy - Argh! I know! The whole your/you're and to/too/two things are probably the easiest to manage too b/c their meanings are so different. And yet - and yet -

    I too (ha!) dislike finding typos/errors in published books. Any publisher who does that gets an automatic tick against them in my brain. Mind you though, I'm not nutso enough to write angry letters b/c on one hand, I feel their pain, but still. (BTW add the they're/their/there to our list!)

  7. Oh my dear lord, that magnet would drive me to insanity. You're right about the elitist snob notion, too. A town a few miles away has a sign at its town line that says it's "...a good town to live in." It's been there for years. Naturally, people took exception, but nothing was ever done because the town had no money for a new sign. When the sign finally needed replacing, many people said, "Great! We can fix it, now." Again, people took exception. Seems the townspeople felt the bad grammar was "tradition." The town held a vote. The new sign reads, "...a good town to live in." *sigh*

  8. OK - full confession time, Delia. I stared at that phrase for a few minutes thinking "what's wrong with it?" See? It sounds correct, right? Yet once you know, the bugging, it is massive

    Argh. ;-)

  9. My worst is that I'm a bit of a grammar snob but I don't know all of the rules.

    I do try to use common sense. Some rules exist because they were just imported from Latin - the splin infinitive matters in Latin because its ONE WORD - you can't split it in Latin and keep sense. In English, the infinitive is made up of two distinct words. I say split away to common sense's content!