Thursday 4 August 2016

The Grammar Nazi

Spelling, grammar, and punctuation were some of my favourite parts of learning English in school. That included learning about independent clauses, subjects, predicates, verbs, and how they all integrated together.

Sixth grade was fun for me back then, and I loved to write. When I started high school, I noticed the teachers placed less importance upon these things. Most English classes were devoted to reading literature, interpreting and analysing the stories to death so that I didn't enjoy "To Kill A Mockingbird", "The Merry-Go-Round In The Sea", or "The Mango Tree" or other books as much as I probably should have. (I will make an exception for "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" though, as it was so dated, despite the issues it addressed.)

When I noticed the teachers' corrections in my work, circling my errors in red pen, maybe including a terse comment about it, I felt betrayed. I wanted to learn how to do better, but I didn't feel they were prepared to show me the proper way. Why would they tell me to watch my grammar without offering a positive response of what I should have done instead of saying don't do this? When I asked one teacher, her reply seemed dismissive. "We expect you to know by now."

If that is the case, should we not expect teachers of today to know how to spell? They couldn't all spell properly when I was in high school, and any of my friends from Geography class will remember how I used to correct the teacher whenever she spelled a word as VERTICLE instead of VERTICAL. I corrected her so often that she ended up asking me, as she wrote on the board, if she had spelled a word properly. On my last day of high school, I gave her my old battered copy of the Oxford dictionary. It was probably a cruel thing to do, but I think she understood the dry humour of our not-so-private joke. I know there are many other teachers who have trouble stringing words together better than a second-grader. One just has to look at Facebook.

I can still be a grammar nazi these days, but I also know that I am not perfect. I've looked at some of my works, and found a glaring error here, there, and sometimes everywhere. It's bloody embarrassing, and now I wonder if I should be admitting it.

The fact is that adult literacy is absolute shit in Australia as well as in the rest of the supposedly developed world. So-called professionals have difficulty understanding the differences between homonyms, such as: YOUR (possessive, as in your book), YOU'RE (meaning you are), and YAW (twist or oscillate about a vertical axis). I have seen these professionals write something like, "Your going to have to visit the office". What the hell?

The other pet peeve is one I often see on FaceBook when people are trying to write the full versions of HAD'VE, SHOULD'VE, and WOULD'VE.

In the above examples, an apostrophe is used to show missing letters. The above are contractions for "HAD HAVE", "SHOULD HAVE", and "WOULD HAVE", respectively. Still, I see professionals use it as "HAD OF", "SHOULD OF", and "WOULD OF". I used to think it was cultural until I noticed educated people making the same slovenly mistake.

It irks me even more when I find that I make mistakes too, and why wouldn't I? I'm not bloody Shakespeare either, but I feel enough pride in what I do that I swallow my pride enough to address my ego and attempt to improve.

That is why I enjoy reading about grammar (no, I don't mean my grandma although I enjoy reading about her sometimes too) for the sake of my own improvement.

Books on English and Grammar can be found in bookstores, but it doesn't have to come at a price; here are some books on the subject; the first two are free, and the third is quite inexpensive.

William Strunk's Elements of Style (a classic that is still recommended in universities for students)

How to Speak and Write Correctly by Joseph Devlin

Grammar Without Tears by Tabitha Ormiston-Smith (a very entertaining book by a good friend of mine)

There are many others out there that include sites for business professionals, authors and writers, and students of all ages. As I find them, I will add more more in the near future.

I hope you enjoy them.

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