Today I am letting one of my dirty little secrets out of the closet and dumping it into the raging river of the interweb, but only because I am desperate to save America. Yes, you America. I am coming clean in admitting that I am, at heart, a puritanically strict English grammarian. I am outing myself with the hope that I can help you clean up your filthy grammar habits, America. Your dangling participles and indecent misuse of apostrophes are simply disgraceful, and I can tolerate it no longer.
Like most people, I was more forgiving and compassionate in my youth. Sometimes people just make mistakes, right? I even managed to go fairly easy on the undergrads whose papers I helped correct in grad school, juniors and seniors at whose grammar usage and general writing skills could be excruciatingly bad. I blamed it on a faulty education system …. or the fact that for many of the students, English was their second language. Kudos to me for lowering the bar! It’s only college, after all.
But I’m tired of cutting grammatical slack, and that’s because it’s not just sullen college students or the random stalker-note writer who’s getting it wrong anymore. This shit has become so pervasive, it seems – especially in the case of Vagary #1, below – that in some instances, the incorrect usage is usurping the place of the correct one. Perhaps this is just the way of the world, the inevitable overthrow of the Old Guard for the New; though while I’m usually a champion of the underdog, in solidarity with revolutionaries around the world – this sloppy, dumbed-down tossing about of language is no way to go about things.
First it was the “Cheaper Then Cheap Cigarettes” signs that irked me. A few years later, it was the letter we received from the new SF Unified School District Superintendent – an education professional, mind you – that was signed “Your’s truly, Arlene Ackerman” (yes, I’m calling you out, Arlene!). Then I noticed grammatical mistakes popping up in PowerPoint presentations and various printed materials. Last week, at a meeting attended and run primarily by educators of various types, a heading on one of the handouts we received read “Biography’s of Nominees.” Rrrrrrrrrr! This just bugs the living shit out of me!
So let’s review some basics, shall we? Maybe tighten our belts a notch, pull up our slacks a few inches and stop saggin’, grammatically speaking? No one wants to see your dangling participle anyway.
The Top 5 Grammatical Vagaries
5. Cheaper; Then, Cheap Cigarettes. OK, it’s minutely understandable why those two cute little words, “then” and “than,” might get mixed up – they sure do look awfully similar! Like those weird Keno brothers, you know, the guys who go absolutely apeshit over antique furniture? They’re identical twins, right, but you can kinda tell them apart, and besides, one specializes in Federal era dining chairs, and the other is all about Georgian sideboards, which are two totallydifferent things. So if you ever find yourself unsure whether you need to use “then” or “than,” just recite this ditty: “T-H-E-N means ‘then,’ and T-H-A-N means ‘than.’” That should sort you out.
4. Their, They’re Little Fella, Your OK …… (my OK what?). Here’s the deal: Just because two words sound the same, that doesn’t mean they are the same! Weird, huh? “Their & they’re” and “your & you’re,” though often mistaken for each other, are NOT like the Keno brothers at all. Completely. Different. Words. Here’s a hint: wherever there’s an apostrophe, a letter is missing. What’s that, you say? Well, for example: if you wrote “their full of shit,” but what you really meant was “they arefull of shit,” you got it wrong (the grammar part I mean; whomever you’re referring to could very well be full of shit). You can think of it as the two words, “they” and “are” as being totally full-of-shit arseholes, who got in a terrible brawl, and the “a” in “are” got beaten down to the point where all that was left of it was an apostrophe. Now you’ve got “they’re.” Make sense?
3. Coulda Shoulda Woulda. Granted, the rules allow us to splice words together into tasty contraction cocktails for the sake of verbal convenience, delicious little bites like “I’ve” and “doesn’t,” as well as a myriad of others, including the two very popular ones listed in #4. But this convenience also makes us sloppy; sometimes it makes us plain dumb. Go ahead and say “could of” if you want to – that’s how it invariably comes out – but when you write it, dammit, grammar counts. It’s NOT “could of” (or “should of” or “would of”)!! Think about it – what the fuck that does that mean? Nothing! Why? Because what you really mean is could have. “I could’ve fucked that girl if my sloppy grammar hadn’t been such a turnoff.”
2. Would you kindly “not smoke” in this area? This particular infraction is almost exclusively limited to posted instructional or cautionary signs; that is, the “unnecessary use” of “quotation marks.” The hilariously ironic result of which being a sign that, with a little wink & a nod, implies that you “please” actually do the opposite of what it says. “No Smoking!” (pssst, no, really, go ahead and smoke here, wink wink)
1. It’s plural, not possessive, people. By far the #1 most common mistake, seen virtually everywhere, from Arlene Ackerman’s correspondence, to menus, to every vacuous email you ever got from your ex-girlfriend and the lengthy Xmas missives the Catholic side of your family insists on sending: using a fucking apostrophe s instead of the plural form of a noun. Just what the F is so goddamn confusing about this? Are people just afraid to put an s at the end of a word without sticking an apostrophe in there somewhere, like the s is some sort of STD that needs to be hygienically separated?
Try this little exercise for some clarification on the plural vs possessive conundrum: Maybe you and your friends are going to pick some daisies, or you’re going over to Daisy’s Bar for a drink; fine. However if you’re going to pick “some daisy’s” …. well then, you’re a moron, unless you can be more specific: you are going to pick a daisy’s petals one by one, perhaps, or tie a daisy’s stem to some other daisies, and make a fragrant necklace for a stinky hippie. Or, you’re going remove all of Daisy’s clothing after you get home from the bar. You might want to utilize some hygienic separation in this particular situation, however.
So get it together, America! Our Empire may be in decline, but that doesn’t mean our grammar has to be!