Sunday, September 30, 2012

It Really Do Matter

I don’t know what the full conversation was about, but two of my students were having a discussion (instead of doing their work, I’m sure), and one said, “God don’t care about that.” Well, I have a policy in my class that there are four grammar errors that I won’t allow my students to make, and that was one of them. For making the errors, my students are required to give a speech in front of their peers. I give them a study guide and twenty-four hours, and then the student must teach the class without the notes. He had to tell what he said, why it was wrong, and what would be right. So I interjected into the conversation and said, “Sure He do. God do care. And I care that you just doed wrong grammar, so you have to give a speech.”

Well, I don’t believe said student realized my own sarcastic grammar gaffes. He was more concerned about the speech, so he replied, “I ain’t doin’ no speech.” Now, I’m not a big fan of the word “ain’t,” but it ain’t one of my speech topics. However, double negatives are, so I thanked him for agreeing to do the speech. He looked at me as confusedly as an eighth grader with bad grammar could look, and he repeated, “I said I ain’t doin’ no speech.” I smiled and said, “That’s right. If you ain’t doing no speech, you clearly have agreed to do a speech—in your case, two of them.” Within forty-eight hours, both speeches had been completed without notes, and the king of the red pen (that would be me) had struck another victory for good grammar.

I’ve reached the conclusion that popular music has a huge impact on the grammar of our youth, and musicians have been whittling away at our culture’s collective resolve for years. One such example is a song that took both Ringo Starr and George Harrison to write. The chorus went something like this: “It don't come easy; you know it don't come easy. It don't come easy; you know it don't come easy.” Okay, it went exactly like that. The Beatles were songwriting geniuses. Bread followed that hit up with one of their own that said, “Time is on my side 'cause it don't matter to me.” Sheryl Crow got into the act with this classic phraseology:  “It don't hurt like it did. I can sing my song again….I don't think of you no more except for every day or two.” I’d comment if I wasn’t speechless. Now Verne Gosdin is in on all the fun grammar antics. How about the song “That Just about Does It, Don't It”? Yes, Verne, it do. But what them singers maybe doesn’t know are (yes, I made those errors on purpose) according to Alyssa Bonagura, “It don’t matter if it’s rainin’.  Nothin’ can phase me. I make my own sunshine.” And she makes up her own grammar too.

What are kids to do in the face of such a powerful example? Well, maybe they should listen to a business owner’s perspective and consider improving their grammar for their own good. In Harvard Business Review, Kyle Wiens, owner of iFixit and Dozuki, wrote “I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.”  He said, “Grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.” Hmmm…a voice of reason in a culture of grammar laziness. He said he actually gives applicants grammar tests because “grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing—like stocking shelves or labeling parts…[and] if it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use ‘it's,’ then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with.” Finally, he said, “Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other important things also aren't important…after all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”

So we as teachers and parents and guardians of our language should spread the word about the importance of using it correctly. AND WE AS WRITERS SHOULD BE EVEN MORE COGNIZANT OF OUR CRAFT. Words are our profession for Heaven’s sake, and we should carry on as professionals. It matters; it really do.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


So I was driving down the road, and this great big truck was carrying a, well, great bigger truck and I couldn’t see around it. It waould and this great big truck ick on the road that I can'e idea in which I demonstrate my economic acuity with complete disregas going too slowly, and my lead foot was desperate for activity—like possibly giving someone a swift kick in the seat of his pants. I was actually deep in thought, and I was getting irritated. I’m not one for road rage, but if there was a good time to demonstrate it, it would have been right then. The duel-trucked truck was too big for the road and the speed was too slow for any normal person to condone, but the real problem had nothing to do with the creeping, overly large vehicle. The real problem was that, strung across the wide trailer-bed was a sign, a sign that said “OVERSIZE LOAD.” That was more than I could take. I mean, there’s a man or woman out there in the world who had the fantastic idea to make banners with those words and who is probably settled into his or her castle somewhere in the tropics enjoying the profits of millions of “oversize load” signs, and the person is a grammar illiterate. It’s oversized load, and people who know their grammar become irritated enough with that signage that we all consider running those vehicles off the road whilst we give them a piece of our minds and an immediate grammar lesson.

You see, there are nouns and verbs in this world that are wonderful base words that allow us writers to add suffixes to them, forming adjectives. The following are some of the aforementioned suffixes:  ing, less, able, ic, ful, al, ish, ous, less, y, like, ate, ed .  We take a word like work and make it working, so we can have “a working idea.”  Self becomes selfless, depend becomes dependable, metal becomes metallic, harm becomes harmful, magic becomes magical, freak becomes freakish, thunder becomes thunderous, life becomes lifeless, rain becomes rainy, cat becomes catlike, and college becomes collegiate. It’s a great way to form some wonderfully descriptive words out of some everyday, common nouns and verbs. 

The same grammatical concept, however, applies to the suffix “d” or “ed.” When it’s added to a noun or verb, it can change the word into an adjective. It can be used as a nice way to describe and tell “what kind” of a person, place, thing, or idea. You see, we don’t have a carpet room; we have a carpeted room. We don’t celebrate finishing our laundry with a pile of fold clothes; we have folded clothes. It’s not a defeat team; it’s a defeated team.  It’s not a bake apple pie; it’s a baked apple pie.  The pie is baked, the team is defeated, the clothes are folded, and the room is carpeted. Does anyone say, “The room is carpet”? If you heard the window is wash, the wall is paint, the door panel is dent, and the onions are chop, it would sound wrong to you, wouldn’t it? 

So why do people say “I want some ice tea”? Or they say “I read a print copy of the book.” Or I hear “I own a king-size bed.” Or I read a sign that says “oversize load.”  The tea isn’t ice; it’s iced. The copy isn’t print; it’s printed. And the mattress isn’t king-size; it’s king-sized. Just like the load isn’t oversize; it’s oversized. In each instance, a suffix (d or ed) is added to a noun or verb to create a very useful adjective. Just like super-size is a verb at McDonald’s, king-size and oversize are verbs as well—unless a suffix is added to change the word to an adjective. So Mr. or Mrs. I’ve-lived-the-American-dream-and-got-rich-quick-off-a-simple-idea-in-which-I-demonstrated-my-economic-acuity-with-complete-disregard-for-my-native-language, just know that when I’m stuck behind a wide-bodied truck on the road that I can’t see past and can’t get around, I’m not upset with the truck; I’m upset with your stupid sign.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Punctuating Dialogue

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way—before one began." I am a member of a unique club—the one filled with writers who have stories in their heads. They are stories that we feel are worth reading, but along the way, we have spelling, grammar, and punctuation that are part of the product which are not separate from the swirling, creative ideas. Our readers need those things to be accurate so they can understand the prose. I think Ernest Hemingway had the proper perspective. He said, "My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.” Well, a goal of mine for this blog is I want to help by telling you about those conventions that Hemingway was talking about—but maybe in an unconventional way. While practicing my advanced googling skills (and I can find anything on the internet, including rules for punctuating dialogue), I came across a blogging quote. Irving Stone said, "There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same blogs." Actually, he said "books," but I took a little writer's liberty because…well…who is ever quoted about blogs? I’d like to welcome you to my blog. I hope you “love” it, and I hope it helps you.
 Let me continue by saying that I believe that we writers need to be conscientious of our own craft. “If you take responsibility for yourself,” said Les Brown, “you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.” Writing without consideration of the rules of the craft is akin to an athlete playing his or her sport without knowing the rules of the game. The athlete is responsible for learning the rules that govern his or her craft. The same is true for a writer—at least for a responsible one. “The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence—the ability to make yourself work at your craft…every day,” said Jennifer Weiner.
I know what you’re thinking. “When are you going to get to the rules, oh philosophical one?” you ask.
My reply to you? “Let me use Chris Bradford’s words instead of my own. ‘Impatience is a hindrance. As with all things, if you attempt to take shortcuts, the final destination will rarely be as good.’” You see, oh impatient one, I’ve already been demonstrating the rules as I’ve gone along; however, I will additionally emphasize three rules to complete my first blog entry.

1.      Put your commas and periods before you insert quotation marks.  This is true for split quotations too (see the Les Brown quote above).  Ex. 1 “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others,” said Groucho Marx.
Ex. 2 Ambrose Bierce said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
2.      The dialogue tag is part of your sentence. It doesn’t start with a capital letter unless there are other capitalization rules involved (like I is capitalized or a proper noun is capitalized).  Wrong:  “Men who don’t understand women fall into two groups—bachelors and husbands.” Said Daniel Tosh.  Correct:  “The trouble with being punctual is that nobody’s there to appreciate it,” said Franklin P. Jones.
3.      If there is a quote or another reason to use quotation marks (like the title of a short story) inside a quote, use single quotation marks. Otherwise, always use the normal double quotes.  Ex. Stacey Rourke said, “Jeff LaFerney’s short story, ‘A Race to Stop a Murder,’ is in my Anchor Group anthology called Paranormal Days Gone Awry.”

There is more to quotation marks than I’ve just said, but I’m hoping to have further blog posts, so keep an eye out for The Red Pen, and if you have questions or comments, they are certainly welcome. Have a great day!