Confessions of a grammar nerd

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I’ve always been fascinated by language, specifically words, and more specifically proper use of words. Give me a book, or any piece of writing for that matter, and I am either picking out the typos or correcting the grammar. I can’t help it. Even when listening to the radio, I correct, in my mind, the sentences of people who I think should know better.

In the fifth grade, we studied sentence structure. Obviously I thought it was great fun, diagraming a sentence. Putting verbs in one place on a line, nouns in another, and adjectives and adverbs in their proper other places. For me, it made charming visual puzzles.

But these days anything goes. Even what I would call poor grammar is sanctioned by newspapers, novelists, radio and TV commentators. Proper pronouns have definitely taken a holiday, had too much wine, become tipsy. It has become okay to say “me and my . . . ”. I was taught always to put myself after the other person, to say “. . . and I” or “. . . and me”, depending on where we were in the sentence. That has definitely changed.

I had an intense discussion with my daughter recently about split infinitives. They drive me up the wall, appear regularly where they never did before. She, being more contemporary, thinks they have a place, sometimes they need to happen. Nevertheless, I am always correcting them mentally when I see or hear them. I do try to be open-minded, to see if they are necessary. Try out all possibilities. And I am sorry to say sometimes they do work, but rarely.

Even common phrases can upset me: when a radio moderator says “see you tomorrow” and I say back, “no, you haven’t seen me at all but I have heard you”. But they don’t hear me.

Recently there is a need for many young people to be referred to as gender neutral. I can understand this well. I wouldn’t like to be known as a female artist; I’m an artist, period. Gender doesn’t change the work, I hope. A painting is a painting, especially when I am not working on it. But what I find difficult, confusing, is referring to one person as “they”. “They” is plural and one person is one person. I may never be able to hear this without all the brain recalculations that I now do to be clear about what is being said, who is the reference point, one person or many.

This all keeps my mind very busy. But I do get great pleasure from it, especially when I come across good grammar, beautiful sentence structure and no typos.

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