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

Posted on September 10, 2015 at 10:05 AM

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.

 

J.

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