Monday, August 1, 2016

The Grammar Policeperson

I was sitting on the beach yesterday chatting with my good friends Karen and Mike. The conversation got around to grammar do’s and don’ts, and effective writing in general. Karen mentioned a children’s book she had read recently which called ocean waves “it” instead of “them.” Mike bemoaned the esoteric language of certain press releases he reads on the job. I try to hit that happy medium—I hope that my writing can be understood by people of all ages, without being too simplistic. Even so, I agonize over certain of my grammatical choices (in a recent essay, I wrote “none of us are going anywhere.” Should it have been “none of us is going anywhere”? Call now with your opinions! Operators are standing by!) 

With Mom and sister Mo--bookish even then!
I was a Catholic school girl. Diagramming sentences was hugely important in my English classes, and I just ate that stuff up. Spelling bees were my forté, and I played to win (even after I discovered that the “grand prize” was always a miraculous medal instead of, say, a sports car). As I grew older, I discovered that some of the people I loved the most were lousy spellers and so-so writers. It didn’t alter my feelings for them, of course, but I always harbored hope that they would start toting dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) around, and step up their game a bit.

My kids were raised largely in the Internet era, a time when the speed of their typing trumped their content every time. Abbreviations came into, and went out of, vogue quickly (though the obnoxious “LOL” remains quite popular. I recently read about an older lady who thought LOL meant “lots of love” and would write it next to messages of sympathy. “So sorry your Uncle Willy died! Laughing out loud!”) In school, diagramming and spelling bees are things of the past. Who needs ‘em now that there are spellcheck and autocorrect? The problem is, of course, that machines don’t always capture the meaning of what is being shared.

When I am in the mood for an apoplectic fit, I love to peruse the comments section after articles posted online. When the comment is in ALL CAPS, I can predict with certainty that it will be a grammar catastrophe. And Lord help the soul who attempts to correct these errors! In a world where ignorance is bliss, any signs of intelligence are ridiculed by subsequent posters.

So where do we go from here? Perhaps we could start by valuing our beautiful language more, and attempting to use it properly. Maybe we could place a bit less emphasis on “plain talking” (and writing), and more on eloquence. You don’t need a graduate degree to appreciate a well-written turn of phrase, but it would be great if our vocabularies could crack the kindergarten ceiling once in awhile.

OK, soapbox time is over! I’m off to diagram a few sentences and do the New York Times crossword puzzle! With a pen! LOL!

On TV promoting my books! Hope everything was spelled correctly!

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