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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Grammar Police

It’s nice having a handy husband.  James can fix anything around the house or yard and a lot of things on a vehicle.  And he usually has a really nifty tool just for that purpose, often a tool I didn’t know existed before.  For example, there’s a cunning device that works like a more efficient version of the good old coat hanger.  It’s a rod with a handle on one end and a little grabber thing on the other, like a very skinny arm and hand.  It’s just the thing for pulling hair out of drains.  When I think of all those hours I spent toiling over drains using bobby pins to dig out one gooey strand at a time....  I've found other household uses for "the grabber."  It did a creditable job of cleaning lint out of the dryer hose that vents outside.  (Although neighbors might have wondered what I was doing crouched behind the bushes for 20 minutes.)  Then I used it to retrieve socks that had fallen behind the dryer. 
I used to pride myself on my mechanical ability.  When I was a single mom, I could change the oil in my car, replace a toilet valve, and, my favorite, take a vacuum cleaner apart, remove whatever was clogging it, and put it back together.  Now I realize I have limitations.  The other day James asked me, “How long has the car been making this noise?”  I asked, “What noise?”  This is a fairly common exchange between us.  I just don’t notice. 
On the other hand, there are things that he doesn’t notice that jump out at me.  Like bad grammar and misspelled words, especially when used on public airwaves by people who should know better.  We’ll be driving somewhere, listening to the radio, and suddenly I exclaim, “Oh, my God!  Did you hear that?” 
“Hear what?” 
“The guy on the radio just said 'theirselves'!”  I’m beside myself.  “That’s inexcusable.  He speaks English for a living!” 
I obsessively point out grammatical errors on billboards and misspelled words on those little news banners that run at the bottom of the TV screen.  o matter that a hurricane is heading our way—they misspelled hurricane!  My daughter shares my horror at the abuse of the language.  Not long ago, she gave me a book entitled, I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar, subtitled "A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups."  It's full of pictorial examples and comments like, “Teaching children the wrong place to put apostrophes is child abuse.”  It’s nice to know there are others like us out there.
Sure, I understand the language is always evolving, and what was ungrammatical a few years ago, like ending a sentence with a preposition, is now perfectly OK.  And I realize the problem is not in the same league as terrorism or the price of gasoline.  But when a college graduate says, “I didn’t do nothing last night,” something is seriously wrong with our educational system.  For self-appointed grammar police like me, bad English, bad punctuation, and bad spelling is just another sign of civilization sliding toward an abyss of ignorance and incivility.  And it seems you can’t do nothin’ about it.

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