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Old-Fashioned Grammar in a New Age?

Posted on September 10, 2015 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (1)

One of the biggest misconceptions of Grammar – English Grammar, at least – is that it is inflexible to the point that something always has to give and, often, shatter. Where modern speakers and writers embrace new ideas, coin neologisms and make verbs out of nouns by adding “ify” (and the like), grammarians, by nature, have to show extreme restraint, reserve and caution. We are like the bespectacled, nerdy-looking kid in a children’s TV programme who stays and pleads for caution while the rest of the group run headlong into (mis)adventure. We don’t have feet of clay, but we certainly keep our feet stuck in the clay as we stand and urge, often to little avail.


There is a reason for this. It’s not an arbitrary decision (although I’d choose to use perfect grammar even if I were the only person left doing it or the last man in the world – oh, the same thing in that context!); it is a stance we hold because we must. Anchoring our feet in proven ground, built over foundations laid down for generations, we still have eyes with which to read, ears with which to hear.


Please have a look at this portal to an article that shows just how rapidly things are changing now. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/headlines/0515/050515-english-language


Professor Sutherland’s findings shed new light on the situation. English is changing faster than ever, and we have the relentless advent of new technologies of convenience to explain it. Modern times proffer modern gizmos and software to a population with ever-increasing expectations. If you think that parents are finding it tough keeping up with their kids’ lingos, imagine how grammarians are feeling…well, reeling.


In my years as a Grammarian, I’ve found that the gulf is widening. It might not be so risky to draw a parallel to another gulf here. Modernity is presenting new challenges; where people who consider themselves good adherents of a religion may run at odds with their creed, so, too, might those who consider themselves to have a decent grasp of English grammar run against themselves at times. It is exceedingly easy to slip on your tongue or trip yourself up with little plastic keys or a ballpoint.


It is all too easy to assume that such a disconnect between grammarians and users at large creates tension. Well, you’d be right. Many grammarians and proponents of good English are marginalised. The jokes about so-called Grammar Police, Grammar Fascists and Grammar Nazis are often made with only the slightest smile. Many see us as pedantic killjoys who live only to correct, who exist only to come between people as they converse, happily not minding our own business as we tap our fingers on, say, page 158 of a book, admonishing the grammar offender, syntax blunderer, or smarmy clichest with the same condemnation a hanging judge might give to an early chewer of gum…. Hang on, did I mean that such an offender lives now, in some autocratic state and chewed his gum at four in the morning? Or, did I mean that this chewer, long since departed this world, had chewed his gum and suffered the consequences in some tumbleweed bedraggled Frontier town in the Old West? Yes, ambiguity is another offence, so I’ll put my hands up but plead the Fifth.


Ironically, modernity has intervened to save the Grammarian somewhat. Some resources define the aforementioned “Grammar Nazi” as one who relishes or delights in correcting others and lives to continue doing so, wherever and whenever. These are troublemakers who are out to make a salve for their inferiority complex by oozing criticism over the word choices of and punctuation used by the rest of us.


Happily, true Grammarians are a different breed. The dreaded black ‘G’ nestling in the white circle that inhabits a red flag is not our standard. Neither are we proselytising with missionary zeal. The salvation on offer here is pertinent to something else: your messages – namely, the power of the messages you give when you write and speak.


We can’t give you fashion advice, tips on whether to use Word or WordPerfect, or say which mouthwash can help enhance your messages as you give them, but we can help you with pretty much all of the rest.


A good, old-fashioned grasp of grammar doesn’t make you a dinosaur. It equips you to recognise that there are thousands of people just like you who know the all-important rule in the modern era. Nothing has to give, and nothing has to shatter, not least your nerves, as grating as some of the dross to be heard and read in the media is nowadays! As long as you realise that you’re using informal English, full of its endearing colloquialisms, you’ve won half the battle.


Congratulations! Oh, and keep writing safely!



How Good is Your Grammar?...How Great is Your Need to Grasp Better Grammar?

Posted on September 10, 2015 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Grammar is a personal deal. No one likes being corrected on it. We like to be right, at least out in public.


We're in an era when we have the best chances of getting help with grammar. We also live in an age where convenience speak, advertising slang and textese have made many an elder shake his (or her!) head in dismay. We've come so far, but for what if we can't even describe where we're at (or should that be where we are?)!


I'm in my 40s. I have seen much in the last quarter-century to suggest that the mob rules. The television was called "the idiot box" when I was a boy. In 1985, when I first became aware of "like" creeping into people my vintage's vernacular(s), I was probably more amused than bemused. The school I went to was seemingly governed with an iron grammatical fist. We had the odd teacher who thought that the degeneracy was seeping in from comic[book]s, especially American ones. I recall one of my U.S. Judge Dredd comic's demises - ripped in two before me in the study hall after I'd finished my test, having been allowed to "read"... Not for nothing was it a grammar school!


By 1995, the vicelike grip of "like" was now secured around the utterances of many, not the Californian mall princesses who had started it years before. There were new threats that had come up like submarine torpedoes: I don't remember anything having been visible on the horizon.


I'm the sort of person who gets irritated easily but laughs it off most of the time. When people make "speech marks" with their fingers and wiggle them while saying "quote", I want to reach out and crack their knuckles so they know better for next time. While aware of the onslaught being waged against the English language in the late Nineties and throughout the Noughties, I was too busy creating my own output to seek a remedy for others. Yes, I giggled when I realised how many Millennials sounded as if they'd had Teletubbies for teachers; it wasn't so funny when I was asking for directions. Squinting my eyebrows in confusion and disbelief at hearing the declarations of many (and not just youngsters!) is probably responsible for some of the furrows in my brow.


I must confess: I've corrected a few people in my life. The last one had put the gerund of his F-word in the wrong part of the sentence. I was bored (and feeling a bit awkward from being so nearby and having to hear his diatribe) and had a headache, so I snapped a little and told him where to stick the gerund of his expletive. Looking back at it, I was risking much. Luckily, he was a good sort, just having a bad day. He laughed and corrected the word order, then repeated it, directing towards his girlfriend, who was also smiling now. I suppose that it did feel good to be a peacekeeper. We all lived to joke about it another day, and I didn't get sounded out as a Grammar Nazi.


Subconsciously, I was ready to write rather than just speak. I've found that correcting people in one-off situations is pointless, anyway: a bit like clawing a hole in dry sand. Writing, blogging, casting out to reach people with a product and message is so much more rewarding.


So, when Rosemarie approached me in late 2011 to ask if I wanted to co-author a guide to English grammar, I'll admit it: I was more than ready to do something to turn the tide. Revisiting English Grammar, soon to be in its second edition, is a revolutionary grammar guide. Specifically written for school leavers and students at the University of Manitoba, it has had a happily universal effect. People of all ages and from all walks of life are using our book to help themselves. It's particularly great that the original Canadian scope has proven to be accessible to readers and writers of English from all over the world. We're reaching people; we're helping them to turn their phrases with more accuracy. By empowering their messages, they're empowering themselves.


Getting hold of good grammar is easy when you know how. There's no excuse not to have the means nowadays. Many people have the misconception that grammar book writers have a beef with word-checking software. We don't! In R.E.G.'s case, at least, nothing could be further from the truth. We admire, advocate, salute, etc. great companies that save our messages on our screens, and we encourage everyone to get the software, keep it turned on and use it. You'll never have a better friend in your wordsmithing than the best of them!


We also know that it's important to have a guide that's accessible, witty and handy. Revisiting English Grammar is chock full of amusing scenarios, where characters (yes, repeatedly featured characters, but if you're thinking Jean-Claude and Marie-France from your French textbook in school, you'd be missing it entirely) engage and indulge in strangely normal, sometimes normally strange, activities to showcase the rule. Our goal was to make the rule memorable; therefore, you'd remember that rule more readily if you've spent five to ten seconds laughing so hard that your eyes are streaming and your ribs feel like someone came at you with a jackhammer.


Overall, Revisiting English Grammar is relevant to people in the modern age. Yes, that's the same modernity which I often blame for causing the grammar crisis in the first place. Many mistake this for "young people". However, it's not the youngsters themselves. It's the age we live in. If you can bear it, just see how long you can go without checking your email or social media notifications. Do you have separation anxiety with your handheld device? Do you consider half an hour too long for someone to "Like" something you did and showed?


Don't answer. Keep asking yourself that, though. While you're at it, look at what's in those messages and notifications; never mind if vanity drove them. How much do you care about getting the spearhead of the information across first, ahead of good grammar? For many people, it's probably in that order. They believe that if they start worrying about breaking character and using "stilted" English instead of the ultra-cool vernacular their friends expect, no, demand, they'll lose street cred. Perhaps their friends might suspect that it's part of a nervous breakdown - oh dear.


There's good news, folks: you can still use the slang and keep your authorial voice as hip as you need to. The trick is knowing a) when not to do it, and b) that you're doing it in the first place. That's why our Kindle is available for $1.99 and our Facebook and Twitter resources keep the tips coming. Good grammar is what you need if you want to be taken seriously. However, don't think that a maniac doesn't mean it if his threat contains a split infinitive. He can hopefully remedy his grammar while he's being corrected for a few years somewhere.


Now write safely, do.



Revisiting English Grammar

Posted on December 22, 2014 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Revisiting English Grammar comes to Winnipeg, Manitoba!

The R.E.G. team will be in Winnipeg in January to promote our book and movement.  Most notably, we shall be at McNally Robinson's The Atrium in Grant Park on Friday, 9th January 2015.  Please check out our link below:  


We shall also be at the University of Manitoba and look forward to meeting many of you as we showcase, discuss and sign copies of Revisiting English Grammar's first edition.