Another Grammar Rant

bad grammar makes me [sic]I just found out it’s National Grammar Day!  How is this a thing I didn’t know about‽  I’m so happy right now!  (And still not using “tears of joy” emojis; take that, Oxford English Dictionaries!)

So, here’s the thing about grammar.  It’s kind of my life.  And that sentence just got me a lot of really strange looks from people reading this, I know, but bear with me.

See, language, on a whole, exists solely to fulfill one purpose: to communicate.  Without communication, we are nothing.  Even animals have communication, and our own bodies could not function without the messengers of the nervous system.  The most fundamental unit of human communication is, of course, the word.  But this alone is not enough.

The reason that words make sense together is because we have certain rules that dictate their usage.  Thus, what I am saying right now makes sense, not is but gibberish now it now does because it.  (Translation: But now it does not because now it is gibberish.)

That’s why I always have to laugh when people say they’re terrible at grammar.  Grammar is much more than even the sacred art that is punctuation and spelling.  Grammar is talking.  It is communication on the most fundamental level.  If someone were truly inept at grammar, no one would ever have any idea what he or she was saying.  Just to utter the coherent sentence, “I’m bad at grammar,” would be impossible if you were actually bad at grammar.  To say “I’m bad at grammar” is to say “I’m bad at communicating with anything more refined than a grunt.”  Without structure, words are just noises or meaningless markings on a page.

And so (spoiler alert) we are in a society ruled by contradiction.  Our civilization is filled with a vast majority who claim that grammar is too tedious, or confusing, or boring, but use it literally every time they talk.  (Yes, literally.  “Literally” in this instance means, shockingly, “literally.”  Not “figuratively.”  “Literally.”  No hyperbole required.)  They can’t be bothered to learn the difference between “to” and “too;” they think that apostrophes and commas and periods aren’t worth their time; and yet they learn the basic rules of language—the words and their definitions, the basic structure of sentences that they don’t even realize they create every time they open their mouths—because they have no choice if they want anyone to understand them, if they want to express anything of meaning.  Grammar is optional, except when it isn’t.  Tedious, except those parts that you don’t remember struggling with because you were too young.  Boring, except when you’re the one talking.

This is what grammar is.  It’s not hard.  It’s not optional.  It’s not inconsequential.

And that is true of all grammar.  Not just sentence structure.  Everything.

It is second-nature to us now to put the subject before the verb and the verb before the direct object or prepositional phrase or what have you.    Why can’t it also be second nature to use the correct form of “to(o),” or to put a period at the end of one sentence and start the next with a capital letter?  So ingrained into us that we don’t even think of it, would often be hard-pressed even to name what we’re doing because it’s that automatic.  Like breathing or blinking or laughing.

Already we pause for breath at the end of a sentence.  All you have to do is express that with a period.

Already, we pause slightly between items in a list, and all we have to do is translate it onto the page with a comma.

We interrupt our own sentences or others’ sentences with abrupt, curt transitions—spoken em dashes.

Fluidly, excitedly, we join ideas together, even though they each have a complete thought to call their own; these are the semicolons of talking.

But, you know, grammar is hard.  And confusing.  And boring.  And tedious.  And it’s not really all that useful anyway.

except that noone reely want’s too reed this sentence because it kinda doesnt make no sens at all and it just keep’s goin and i could just keep goin on 4ever and the reader like wouldnt get to stop ever and then theyll just get board and walk away like fer shore

Just sayin’.

Words, though lovely and joyous and perfect, are nothing without rules with which to define them.

I have chosen to devote my life to words.  But I cannot immerse myself in language without also cultivating a profound devotion to grammar.  Like dependent clauses, one cannot stand without the other.

(Oh my God, I think that was actually the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written.  Did I seriously just reference dependent clauses in my profound statement about words and grammar‽ I must never forget this moment.  It is a milestone.

Actually, no, I can do better than that: Hey, everybody!  My favorite punctuation mark is, without a doubt, the semicolon (because take that, Vonnegut), but it is closely followed by the em dash in second place, and the plural possessive apostrophe in third.  I actually am deeply appreciative of all apostrophes, but the plural possessive gives me a special warm and fuzzy feeling.

Mission accomplished.)

So.  Thoughts?  Ideas?  Favorite grammar rule or punctuation mark?  Descriptivist gripes?  Hurt feelings because I just insulted your ability to communicate?  Do share!

Happy National Grammar Day, all!

Cara Kennaway

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5 thoughts on “Another Grammar Rant

  1. I’m not sure whether anybody’s ever told you this, but you’re sort of brilliant. You make some really good points in this post – points which, moreover, probably wouldn’t have occurred to the majority of people. It’s never even really occurred to *me* before that punctuation marks and written sentence structuring are simply echoing natural speech patterns. Or at least, not in so many words. That is exactly why I shamelessly overuse em dashes and ellipses in my own writing, though.

    And that brings us to my favorite types of punctuation. The ellipsis is definitely one. I’m also partial to both colons and semicolons, and I’ve got a soft spot for interrobangs (partly, I admit, because they have the best name of any punctuation mark ever).

    Also, quick whiny thing: I read a book recently that had a lot of run-on sentences in it. As in, so many run-on sentences that the author must’ve been including them on purpose (heaven knows why). It was a pretty good book, too, which somehow made the whole thing even more annoying. And they were all the same type of run-on sentence – two independent clauses separated by a comma. I kept thinking of you, actually, because if she’d just used semicolons instead of commas everything would’ve been fine. *Sigh*

    Now I’m reading another book in which I’ve run into multiple examples of the same type of very easily fixable run-on sentence, as well as repeated instances of sentences featuring interjections that haven’t been separated from the rest of the sentence (i.e. “Well I don’t know about you…” instead of “Well, I don’t know about you…”). I just… how does stuff like that happen? Is the editor subscribing to different grammatical rules than I’m familiar with? Is the editor afraid of offending the author by pointing out mistakes? Is the author ignoring the editor for reasons of his own? Has the world gone mad? What?

    Anyway. Once again, excellent post. Keep up the good work. Never apologize for your passions. Sorry for rabbit-trailing in my comment. Yours, etc.

    1. Thank you, Pearl!!! I’m glad I could introduce a new perspective on punctuation! I guess, if all else fails, I could always teach English…*considers the logistics of this idea, shudders, and promptly decides against it* Then again, you just provided several reasons I should stick with the editing plan. I’m telling you, the editing world needs more grammar Nazis.

      Because, seriously, why wouldn’t you just use a semicolon there?! It’s not that hard, and you get the additional satisfaction of having correctly used a semicolon. *sigh*

      …Incidentally, what books were these, for what age group were they (MG, YA, NA, or Adult), and who published them? ‘Cause, you know. Reasons.

      And I frequently overlook the interrobang, for no good reason, probably. I need to stop doing that. Truly. (I’m trying to think of something pithy to say about the interrobang that’ll give me an opportunity to use an interrobang, but my wit is failing me. What can I say?!

      …Oh, hey, look at that. Well, cool.)

      And the rabbit trail is actually much appreciated. Thank you for the encouragement and for sharing your grammar gripes.

      By the way, here’s another fun perspective on punctuation: http://www.sprylit.com/archives/issue-04/creative-nonfiction/fascinating-rhythm-praise-punctuation/ Aside from her use of “thusly,” it’s quite well done, and really interesting to think about…

      Slán!

  2. Very interesting commentary. I too saw grammar in a slightly different way while reading this. Congrats on possibly showing me just a slight glimmer of the art to be had in it.

    I do think there is something about having to write with perfect grammar that is much more difficult than speaking with perfect grammar (not that that happens either). My aunt speaks fluent Spanish (she is from Mexico) and while I am learning it and she tries to help me sometimes, she cannot tell me why something is the way it is. Babies learn to talk but they don’t know why words function the way they do. They only know what sounds right because that’s what everyone else does. That same child will have much difficulty learning how to write the words they’ve been speaking for years.

    My point is, I don’t think it’s horribly shocking to find that people would find grammar difficult despite their ability to speak perfect English. Not everyone has an interest in learning to write well. Some people have talent with numbers and science – just because they are different than what we are inclined to, doesn’t mean that it’s laughable that they would struggle with it. Dyslexic people struggle with grammar (specifically in written form) and that’s not really laughable either…

    God made us differently. Some of us love written language. Some of us don’t. And that’s all ok. :-)

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