Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's National Grammar Day!

This sounds like a day of celebration for stodgy old English profs like me, but--not really. I approach so-called Grammar Gurus with caution. I've come to realize that too much emphasis on grammatical correctness can stifle writing efforts completely. I favor a more relaxed, common-sense approach.

According to Nathan Bierma in his article "Don't get carried away on National Grammar Day" in the February 26 Chicago Tribune, the "policewoman" behind the sponsoring group, SPOGG, or the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, is Martha Brockenbrough of Microsoft's Encarta web site (http://www.encarta.msn.com/). She writes a column there entitled "Grumpy Matha's Guide to Grammar and Usage."

Like almost everyone, I laugh at extreme examples of poor writing. Here's one from Courtney Love's blog, as quoted by Brockenbrough:

"ive been nbot working the tightest program and been multi tasking and managing time horribly- so i was on the phone and i said i wanted pretty short bangs- not NO bangs and she cut them when i was on the phone with one of these whakcjob banks that heres some trust and some joint bogus account and some insane mortage in- these f***s for years and years and years=- in anycase anyone know exactly how many records Nirvana has sold all in worldwide since Nirvana started?"

"Grumpy Martha" provides a translation, but I'll let you look it up or do the translating yourself. 'Nuf said. Nobody should write like that. If Love's fans think that's adequate writing, I'm glad I belong to an older generation. Still, it's possible for grammatical criticism to go too far. Martha even takes Elvis to task for singing "I'm all shook up" rather than "I'm all shaken up." It just wouldn't be the same.

Nathan Bierma goes on to quote Mignon Fogarty, whom he describes as "a more level-headed grammatical authority" known as Grammar Girl (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/) . Fogarty hopes that "participants [in National Grammar Day will] focus on spreading the word about the style points and grammar myths that many people latch on to as truth. For example . . . it's OK to split infinitives, and sometimes it's acceptable--even preferable--to end a sentence with a preposition. It's shocking, but true!"

National Grammar Day is promoted as a chance to flag any violation of standard English usage in any situation, to write notes to storekeepers about misused apostrophes in signs and to set errant newspaper writers straight with "friendly" emails. However, I agree with Mr. Bierma that "Such corrections are seldom friendly, welcome or necessary. They are usually self-righteous, irritating and misinformed."

If you note some personal conflict here, you're right. I believe in good, correct writing, but I also believe in honest self expression. Let's hope that the two can coexist. Let's just be a bit careful!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

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