Friday, November 18, 2011

A Member of the (not so) Secret Grammar Police

You may or may not know this about me: like a lot of other dorky writers, I'm a bit of a language and grammar nut. I know in this blog I don't always use 100% proper grammar 100% of the time. But I can assure you that 99.9% of the time, if I don't? It's on purpose, for reasons of literary integrity, cadence, emphasis, etc.

A blog is not a formal paper, after all. Sometimes I want it to sound like we're having an intimate conversation, like I'm sitting beside you, whispering my thoughts, inches from your ear. And friends? I don't always speak in complete sentences, with proper grammar, it's true.

But some stuff? The really egregious stuff? Drives me completely batty. Like using the wrong "there, their or they're." Really, people, didn't you learn that in second grade?

See? I instantly become a member of the secret grammar police, schoolmarmish, clucking my tongue and rolling my eyes and generally taking everything you say 50% less seriously if you use certain words wrong. I'm sorry. I know it's elitist. But I can't help myself.

But also, like (I think) all grammarians, I have my favorite, pet non-grammatical phrases. I know they're dead wrong but love them anyway. Like this one: "needs done."

And? "Y''all." Because there is NO plural for you in "proper" English. And it needs one, doesn't it? "Y'all" will suffice. 

And then there's punctuation. My blog voice is halfway between literary & conversational, making it sometimes hard to find just the right balance between "proper" and functional.

So often I literally hear the words in my head as I write, and then am scrambling to find a way to make the punctuation work just right so that you will hear them EXACTLY the way that I heard them, too - or as close as you can since you will likely be hearing your own voice reading my words to you.

Unless you are my friend in real life, then you might hear my actual voice talking to you. Or not.

Maybe you hear Katharine Hepburn or Carol Kane or your Aunt Matilda (or Tweetie Bird for that matter) reading my words in your head. I have no control over that. We never really know what is going on inside other people's heads anyway, do we? (OK, digression over, back on topic now...)

But, even though I have no REAL control, I do what I can to clone my voice into your brain. Trying to parse things like: What sort of pause is a dash verses a comma, a comma verses a semi-colon? What level of emphasis is ALL CAPS verses bold verses being set off with *apostrophes*? How much of a shout is *ALL THREE AT ONCE*? (And is that ever justified?)

Also? Correct pronunciation counts. Sorry but it does.

I was raised by New Yorkers who had no New York accents, who were literate and believed that sounding intelligent was a good thing. (Did this get me shunned on the playground from time to time, left as the cheese who stands alone in the games of Farmer in the Dell? Probably, but it was worth it.)

If you said "axe" instead of "ask" around my mother? She would literally turn green, ask who you were planning to chop up. And our next door neighbor kids, who I played with every summer? Their Mom was from South Carolina. Axe, axe, axe away how they pronounced THAT one.

I've learned in the wisdom of my old age to keep my damn mouth shut, to not actually roll my eyes, to keep my polite on; because I really don't need to get into silly altercations about such trivial things after all, do I?

But in my mind? The schoolmarm is quite alive.

Take "nuke-u-lar."  Pronounce nuclear that way, and I immediately shave approximately 30 IQ points right off you. Which is why if I ever hear any of this come out of Ethan's mouth? (And I do.)  I get on his case like a tiger.  He pushes back: "It's not fair, Mom, Jake says stuff wrong all the time." And that's true.

But Jacob has an excuse. He has autism, and furthermore, his particular flavor of autism is heavy on the language processing deficit stuff. Ethan knows this, knows if he goes on I will ask him the up-shutting question: "Do you really want to trade places with your brother? Because you know, life has actually been very not fair to him. But if you'd really prefer to be the twin with autism..."

And yes, I know this seems like nitpicking. But remember, in the animal kingdom actual nitpicking is an act of friendship and camaraderie. An important part of the social contract among our primate ancestors: you pick my bugs off and and I'll pick yours.

Speaking of which, since no one is proofreading my stuff but me, and sometimes I'll miss things that are obviously a mistake - like dropped apostrophes on "it's" and missing prepositions - if you DO catch something in my blog that needs fixing and isn't a clear style choice? Would you let me know?

I know it's not in the official spirit of blogging - write it and move on - but I *WILL* go back in and correct things in my posts. Sometimes multiple times (but not on Stream of Consciousness Sundays which are supposed to have all mistakes left intact, YIKES).

Because those occasional stray commas? Make me twitch if I find them in my blog. Oh, yeah, it's, fun, being, me. (Twitch.)

Note: This post is one from the Zombie Files. Since yesterday I said that they were "coming soon," I figured I had better make good on that promise, and sooner rather than later.

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