Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Snow, Snow, Quick, Quick, Snow.

Second snow day in a row. That hasn't happened in a long time. I shall find plenty of things for Michael to do, I don't want anybody worrying about him being bored or anything:)

OK, so today I'm going to bore you with grammar nazi stuff. I don't have to, but I'm going to anyway. Some of you will roll your eyes. But I approach this with the theory of teaching by repetition.

First I'm going to excuse you on all sorts of things, because I'm not as bad as they make me out to be. The purpose of writing is communication. If what you write can be understood, even if you make mistakes, it serves its purpose and nobody is harmed, and I will stand right beside you telling the worst of the grammar nazis to chill out and back off. Perhaps you say "if I was" instead of "if I were". Perhaps you confuse "lay and "lie". Perhaps you have never understood the difference between "farther" and "further". If you're not sure about "practise" and "practice", or "insure" and "ensure", it doesn't really matter, we know what you mean. Even doctors use the word "nauseous" wrongly.

No, we are not going to dwell on things like this. Life is too damn short.

But where do we draw the line? At which point is what you write bad enough to deserve correction?

Up to a point, it's situational. What you write in a thesis needs to be more correct than what you write in a blog. What you write in a blog needs to be more correct than what you write in a text message.

Where's your limit? Are you OK with informal speech? Don't get your knickers in a knot over slang and idiom? Even tolerate some kreative spelling, perhaps?

You have a limit. Yes, you do.

If you were reading a newspaper and, right on the front page, you saw:

"Some geezer wozznt elping the tart fetch her shit home so she wollopt im an all...."

You'd say that wasn't the sort of English you expected of a professional journalist, and you'd be quite justified to complain about it.

It's obvious that's wrong. It's obvious that shouldn't be published.

What if it was just ONE word?

What if you saw this in a travel blog:

"He visited several temples during the tour of the island, including won that put on a special performance of traditional dance during the afternoon."

Wouldn't you stop and gawp at "won"? Wouldn't you say "where is the proofreading here, does nobody check this?"

How would you feel about that writer? Would you say "it was just a simple mistake" or would you wonder how literate they were generally?

What if you then saw that same writer make the same mistake repeatedly. Is that quite different? What would you think then?

Now, what if that writer was a personal friend. How comfortable would you be pointing that out to them?

Let's assume:

a) the writer has a good, possibly university education, and holds down a responsible job
b) they are not compromised in any way, by a learning disability or other issue
c) you have already talked about the error in question, in general terms, on MANY occasions, and have developed a reputation as a pain in the bum for doing so
d) you don't want to actually say directly to this person "look, you keep writing X, and it's wrong" for whatever reason

So, you have to keep pretending it's not happening. And it burns. It burns.

I really, really try to just ignore it. But it jumps out at me like that "won" jumped out at you.

There are 3 that do this most of all. The BIG THREE.

You know my favourite.....

1. The extraneous apostrophe. In particular, the apostrophe used to make a plural. There was one on a Facebook page the other day.

She had used an apostrophe to make a plural on one word, but not on the others. Why? Why did it say "holiday's"? But she did her other plurals correctly.

I can see you rolling your eyes from here, oh yes I can, but do you know what this looked like to me?

It looked like this:


That's how it leaps off the screen, screaming at me "WHY AM I HERE? I DON'T BELONG HERE".

Can I just ask you to be honest for a moment, are you still unsure how to form a plural in English? If so, you can ask. I will help you. I will be kind. We can laugh about it. Then you'll get it right. (HINT: Don't use an apostrophe....)

Today, however I'm going to try one more time, to teach the 2 other grammar mistakes that hurt me physically every time I see them.

2. Could of. This is wrong. It is always wrong. Write "I could have". There is never any time when "could of" is right. It has never been right. Many others have told you this. Many times. Why can you not get it into your head that this is wrong? The same applies to "would have" and "should have".

3. I use to. No. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Write "I used to". The same applies to "I was supposed to".

Now go away, and think to yourself, "Am I guilty about this myself? Maybe I should CHECK next time I write, so I don't look semi-literate."

I'm going to have to start shooting people otherwise.


  1. guilty as charged I fall into the habit of writing like people in my geographical area speak. You are so lucky I don't write "the smorning" when meaning this morning.

    1. How people speak definitely affects how they write. You know the whole confusion between "then" and "than"? They say the words the way they write them. There are lots of examples of this. Yesterday Tyler completely misunderstood what I said. He over-compensates in his head for my English accent so when I said "There are far more things to do...." he heard "There are farmer things to do....". It got quite silly before we figured out the disconnect.

    2. I have difficulty hearing and I had a professor that always said "good enough for government workers" For the whole semester I wondered why garment workers were okay with estimating numbers. He was from India and I thought maybe it was an India thing.

    3. ROFL! That's like the misheard lyrics on songs!

  2. My daughter's school teacher loves commas. She will, put a comma, behind every, third, or even fourth, word.

    Now I cut her some slack because she is French and perhaps it is simply a language barrier issue. But she also teaches language arts to a grade that is still learning these punctuation rules.

    1. There are worse things than too many commas. Most people use too few. They are supposed to represent where you pause when speaking. Maybe she's hoping it'll help them when they speak aloud. Considering kids forget all the important punctuation rules, they'll probably forget this. I wouldn't worry.

  3. There are definitely times when I catch errors in a newspaper article or book that I'm reading and I can chalk it up to an editing mishap. The Montreal paper very rarely slips, but when it does, you can bet there are letters to the editor about it.

    However my mother (having been an English teacher) used to take great pleasure in picking apart the articles in the Cornwall Ontario newspaper. Being a smaller city with few opportunities beyond high school, the writing/editing skills of the people at the news office are more limited.

    1. There's still a limit, don't you think?

      I am willing to create a list of unforgivable errors in a publication, should anyone need one, I'm just so GIVING.

  4. I could (and would) of course agree.