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.