Category Archives: Grammar Faerie

‘Misspelled and brave’

I could learn a thing or two from Real Live Preacher:

I saw a sign that said, “Far Would 4 Sail.”?

At first I didn"t know what it meant, but then I figured it out and laughed. It was the good kind of laugh, like when you finally get a joke.

The sign brought to mind many things I have known that seemed good and were good, only they were spelled wrong. But perhaps they weren"t wrong at all, at least not in the important ways of being wrong. Perhaps in some other place or time, they would have been right.

…This is a secret: sometimes, when I’m alone at night, and the church feels far away, and there are no nice people around, and the rules and obligations are out of my mind, I wish that I could write like the far would sign. Misspelled and brave and the hell with anything except for what is clear and obvious and right in front of my face. The stuff my body and my heart tells me is real and good. (read the whole thing…)

Een

There appears to be an increasing trend (or I’m just noticing it more often) of people ignoring the “g” in the “ing” suffix. So the word “driving” becomes “driveen“.

Over lunch today, I heard a CBC reporter say “een” instead of “ing” repeatedly in one report, and it wasn’t very subtle, either.

One high-profile person that says “een” instead of “ing” is George Clooney. Listen for it next time you hear him speak — it’s subtle, but it’s there. I’m a big fan of George Clooney, but I find it a little unbecoming.
I notice these things. I can’t help it.

Figure of speech

If it’s “needless to say”, why am I saying it?

I think I shall banish that phrase from my writing and speech. The problem isn’t with what I’m saying—it’s with the fact that I’m prefacing the information with “needless to say”. I’m saying it, so the term is untrue. Better to say something like “obviously” or nothing at all.

Incidentally, I’ve added a new category: “Grammar Faerie“. I’ll be going back and adding other grammar-focused posts to it. Not that I am some kind of expert (though I am a god), but because from time to time I like to discuss and ruminate on grammatical matters. I try not to offer too many categories—in fact, I’m thinking of somehow amalgamating “Faith & Church“, “Philosophy & Religion” and “Theology & Doctrine” (boy, those sound pompous!)—but there are enough posts to warrant a separate category. (All categories are listed on my archives page.)

Why “Grammar Faerie”? Because several years ago I was having an MSN chat with my two former roommates. As is the norm when chatting with those two guys, things got silly and I was in tears with laughter. At some point I started correcting their grammar all over the place and they started calling me names. I can’t remember who called me the “grammar fairy”, but I liked it and I immediately set up a new hotmail account under that name (although spelled a little differently). I didn’t like using the “gaithers” hotmail tag, which Dixie had brought into the marriage, so I was quite pleased. (I’ve just revealed my MSN Messenger ID, haven’t I?)

Ramble on!

Oh, horrible, horrible prose!

I was doing some mindless internet browsing and on a whim I Googled “Dan Brown“. The first two hits were, of course, his official site and the Wikipedia entry on the author. The third hit, however, appears to be a blog about grammar with several contributing grammarians. Oh, happy day! (Unfortunately, the blog is called “Language Log“. I can’t take seriously any title which includes the word “Log”, thanks to this joke: What did Spock find in his toilet? The captain’s log.)

But I digress. The Google search hit brought me to a post about the unseemly prose found in The Da Vinci Code:

Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better. (Link)

Now, the author of this post comes off as a bit snobby, but his observations of the text are, as far as I can tell, bang on. In fact, I feel like a grammatical amateur after reading this post, as I didn’t really notice all the grammatical issues throughout the book, other than perhaps a subconscious unease about Dan Brown’s writing in general. But, as I said earlier, I was taken by the story in spite of the poor prose. (After reviewing this post, I can’t help but wonder if the word “much” in the quote above is superfluous. There’s nothing quite like finding fault in the grammar of a grammar stickler.)

Here is a sample of Language Log’s (*chuckle*) critique of the book:

…actually, there is someone else around, but we only learn that three paragraphs down, after “a thundering iron gate” has fallen (by the way, it’s the fall that makes a thundering noise: there’s no such thing as a thundering gate). “The curator” (his profession is now named a second time in case you missed it) “…crawled out from under the canvas and scanned the cavernous space for someplace to hide” (the colloquial American “someplace” seems very odd here as compared with standard “somewhere”). Then:

A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.”

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

Just count the infelicities here. A voice doesn’t speak ”?a person speaks; a voice is what a person speaks with. “Chillingly close” would be right in your ear, whereas this voice is fifteen feet away behind the thundering gate. The curator (do we really need to be told his profession a third time?) cannot slowly turn his head if he has frozen; freezing (as a voluntary human action) means temporarily ceasing all muscular movements. And crucially, a silhouette does not stare! A silhouette is a shadow. If Saunière can see the man’s pale skin, thinning hair, iris color, and red pupils (all at fifteen feet), the man cannot possibly be in silhouette. (Link)

I love it, I love it, I love it. My wife derives great pleasure from doing taxes, I get mine from grammatical nitpicking. Sadly, this is all I could come up with in my review of the same book:

Brown tries to force drama through the dialogue of the protagonists, but it doesn’t work (it never does). He also has a penchant for using flashbacks to explain certain elements of the mystery, as well as relying inner monologue as an explanatory tool (e.g. He’s trying to do such and such, but that will lead him to such and so, the protagonist thinks to himself).

*Sigh* I was going mention “prose” (honestly!), but I rushed the post to publication. (Ironically, these few lines have a few grammatical errors of their own.)

Which brings me to my next, quasi-related point: scribbling post ideas into a notebook and then writing a draft and saving it in my blog-writing software does not make for good writing–at least, not for me. I need to take time to sit somewhere quiet when I write, without pressure to click “publish. In fact, I should really stew over the words for a couple of days before posting.

Strange Pop-up Ad

This popped up when I accessed the 411.ca website today (it was also on the website itself at the same time):


It’s strange because it’s an opinion question as opposed to the usual ‘facts’ question (e.g. “Who is the biggest selling musical act in the U.S., The Beatles or Garth Brooks?” or “What is the average rainfall in the Amazon basin?”) that are asked in these ads.

I wonder, given our current political climate, if there is a correct answer to this question (according to the advertiser) and, if so, will I still get the free iPod Nano if I answer incorrectly? Someone else will have to find out, because I never click on pop-up ads (and neither should you).
Incidentally, the syntax of the question raises a grammatical issue. I know what is meant by it, but when read literally the question asks whether Harper is a threat to two separate things:

  1. Women
  2. Gay rights

Purse snatchers, rapists and serial killers are a threat to women; some politicians are a threat to women’s rights as well as gay rights. The latter is, I believe, what is intended by the question.

I think the grammatically correct version of the question would be “Is Harper a threat to women’s and gay rights?” But I’ll have to check on that.

The thing about writing without uppercase letters is…

…what have you really accomplished by no longer using the “Shift” key? I mean, why stop there? Why not eliminate all punctuation and spacing as well?

It seems to me that the problem can’t really be hitting the “Shift” key every now and then?the other keys must be hit much more often. No, the problem must be typing itself; typing is enough of a nuisance so any extra key-striking is an extreme inconvenience.

So the question really is, why not stop typing altogether?

Grammar god

This is the kind of thing I like to hear:

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Congratulations! If your mission in life
is not already to preserve the English tongue,
it should be. You can smell a grammatical
inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is
revered by the underlings, though some may
blaspheme and call you a snob. They’re just
jealous. Go out there and change the world.

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)
brought to you by Quizilla

(Via)

I wonder how Randall would fare in this quiz?

I’m a bit of a nerd.

I don’t (generally) use this space for lessons in grammar, but the question of correct usage of the words “principle” and “principal” came up twice in less than 24 hours.

I was at the bank yesterday paying some money against our mortgage principal. I noticed that the teller customer service representative wrote “principle” on the receipt, but I did not correct her (one must choose one’s battles carefully) ? anyway, I hope my money goes to the right place.

This afternoon one of the other secretaries administrative professionals in our office was debating something with our boss; my ears perked up (is that the phrase) when I heard someone say, “Is it ‘le’ or ‘al’?” I knew immediately what it was about; the boss was insisting it should be principAL while the AP was insisting that it was principLE, her argument being that principals are only those persons who run schools. (Note: she was a little overconfident, I’d say. The boss has been in legal practice for over thirty years and is likely to know the correct usage in a legal document.)

I chimed in, “No, it is ‘PrincipAL.” The other AP still didn’t believe us. I went straight to dictionary.com (we have an actual dictionary in the office, but this was easier).

Their explanation (and they explain it much better than I could):

Principal and principle are often confused but have no meanings in common. Principle is only a noun and usually refers to a rule or standard. Principal is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it has specialized meanings in law and finance, but in general usage it refers to a person who holds a high position or plays an important role…

So a good principle for principle is that principle has one principal usage, whereas principal doesn’t really have a principal usage in principle, except maybe when referring to a Principal .

Yeah, so I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to this kind of thing. The greater meaning of this brand of nerdishness causes me a bit of anxiety, but that’s something for another post.

Anyway, just so you know. Class dismissed.

Two beefs.

May I be honest? Of course I may.

Writing without uppercase letters really bothers me. The only place I’m willing to see no capital at the beginning of a sentence or a name (for example) is in poetry, and then it has to be there for a reason other than “because it looks poetic”. Unfortunately, uppercase-less writing is rather trendy at the moment, particularly on the internet and in email. I’m tempted to say that writing without uppercase letters is the abstract art of postmodernism, but I won’t go so far.

I find that a lack of uppercase letters makes written work look like one huge run-on sentence–it simply makes it difficult to read. The main reason, however, for my distaste for uppercase-less writing is that it is deliberate. A person can plead ignorance of proper usage when caught with a comma splice; mixing up “its” and “it’s” is even forgivable. But even the least educated people know that the first word after a period (or “full stop”) begins with a capital letter. This means anyone who does not use capital letters is doing it on purpose.

But I’m not the boss of the world.

While I’m on the subject, lists that are written as a series of clipped sentences are also annoying. Take, for example, this passage from John Eldredge’s new book Epic (which was given to me to read and review, and which, I confess, I am predisposed to dislike):

Bring two people together, and they will soon be telling stories. A child on her grandmother’s lap. Two men in a fishing boat. Strangers stuck another hour in the airport. Simply run into a friend. (p. 4)

Isn’t that terrible? Isn’t it unseemly? The last four sentences are supposed to be items in a list of examples. However, if read using his punctuation as a guide (which is how we should always read anyway), Eldredge gives us three separate images and an order to arrange an accidental meeting with an acquaintance, none of which are related to any of the others. Commas or semicolons would have made related them to each other:

Bring two people together, and they will soon be telling stories: a child on her grandmother’s lap; two men in a fishing boat; strangers stuck another hour in the airport; simply run into a friend.

Now that I look at that list, the last item is itself grammatically incorrect. Items in a list should have uniform phrasing, so the last item should probably read: “simply running into a friend”. Even then it’s not ideal, because the first three items are all images, whereas the third item is an action; listed items should all be similar not only in phrasing, but in nature as well.

But I’m not John Eldredge’s editor.

I suppose one could argue that these things don’t matter if people don’t notice them. Perhaps; but I notice them, and they bother me. I suppose, too, that people write however they please. I won’t hold a gun to anyone’s head when it comes to writing a certain way, but I will complain about it.

This went on a little longer than I had planned. That’s what happens when I get on a rant, I guess.

Once again, I’ll be the first to point out that my grammar isn’t perfect. I want to improve my writing; along the way I notice things and I can’t keep my literal and metaphorical mouth shut.