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    National Grammar Day: Well, La Di Da (or is it “Dah”?)

    So I think I told you I’m working on a book.  I’ve changed the title again, so now I’m calling it “Living to Tell About It”.   (The sub-title may or may not be “How to tell your story when it gets to be That Time,” but don’t hold me to it.)

    It’s a sort of a how-to on writing, with some real aspects of how-not-to, gleaned from personal experience.  In honor of National Grammar Day (started by Catholic nuns carrying rulers, no doubt) I present my own take on grammar and punctuation from my book-in-progress:  (As you’re reading this you might have to pretend you’re reading a real book.  It’ll make more sense that way, until the real thing comes along.  I just noticed, too, that this chapter is mainly about pronunciation.  That's how little I think--or know--about grammar.)


    Grammar and punctuation: I don’t get it, so this won’t take long

    Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know of grammar is its infinite power” — Joan Didion

    I can almost guarantee that every person reading this book knows more about the rules of punctuation and grammar than I do. (Can I use “than I do” at the end of that sentence? I don’t know and I don’t care.) Writing clearly is our goal here and, yes, there are rules, but if you let yourself get bogged down by rules early on, there will be no later on. You’ll quit. We can’t have that.

    There are hundreds of books out there that will tell you where you’re going wrong grammatically and punctuationally (Don’t use that word, I made it up) if that sort of thing means something to you, but, honestly, you’ll learn nothing new here. In fact, if you follow my lead you might find yourself having to unlearn whatever it is you think you picked up here.

    A while back I commented on a website forum post using a quote within a sentence to make my point. Before I hit “publish” I went over my comment and everything looked fine to me, but within an hour I got a private email from one of the forum folk accusing me of tricking him into believing I was British because I had put the period outside the quote instead of inside. (The way any real American would know to do, I guess is what he was saying.)

    Well, honestly? Until that guy with way too much time on his hands pointed it out, I had no idea there was that important regional difference between inside and outside periods. Now that I know, I will try not to ever, ever do it AGAIN.

    Say this was the sentence: The one thing I can’t stand is when someone who doesn’t even know me has the gall to email me to let me know that “in America we put the period inside the quote, not outside, as is done in England, even when part of the sentence isn’t in quotes.”

    So that’s the right way. Now picture the above last period outside the quotation mark instead of inside, where it apparently belongs here in America. How offensive would that be to you?

    Thank you.

    It’s that kind of thing. . .

    But while we’re on quotation marks, there are people who just go nuts when they’re used wrong and unnecessarily. My college-educated grandson is one of them, and he has made it his life’s mission to point out just how misused they are in everyday life, especially in advertising signage. So this Christmas I had to bite my tongue not to point out to this darling man that, as smart as he is, he could have taken that little hobby and turned it into something useful, like putting together a book of examples of egregious and often hilarious usage on signs. That way he would be collecting royalties on the thing instead of receiving just such a work as a Christmas present.


    book of unnecessary quotations

    A fine example of a writer having fun

     Then there’s that silly thing about how many spaces one should allow between sentences. (About “one should allow”: It’s snooty and not at all like me but it seemed to fit there because the subject is a bit snooty. It’s rare when I do that, and I hope it’ll be even rarer when you do.) There’s an ongoing argument among certain priggish internet denizens about sentence spacing. There are the one-space people pitted against the two-space people (that would be me), and I guarantee the definitive answer will still be floating around out there when the world as we know it ends and only the cockroaches are left. There are logical reasons for doing it both ways, but I like the way two spaces looks between sentences and that’s the way I do it.

    The one-spacers argue that it’s us oldsters who keep muddying up the rule, since we learned to type on ancient typewriters that didn’t even automatically fix letter-spacing, so in the olden days it really did look better when there were two spaces between typewritten sentences. Now, with modern technology, we don’t need that extra space. So look how much space we could save if we would just learn to hit that space bar once instead of twice after that period. (I’m not kidding. That’s what they say. And do. And, okay, as much as I like that double-spacing between sentences, if you’re reading this book in published form and there’s just one space between, I either did what I was told or somebody went above my head and did it in spite of me.)  [Ed. note:  Apparently WordPress does it, too.  Everybody's a damn critic. ]

    There’s also an ongoing argument about ellipses (those three dots at the end of that partial sentence four paragraphs above). I like the look of three of them separated by spaces. Others think there should be no spaces in between. Still others think ellipses should be eradicated from the face of the earth.

    I like them. I like the visual effect of dots and dashes and ellipses and italics and parens and exclamations. They add drama and flair to otherwise dullish sentences. But I’ll be the first to admit there is such a thing as overdoing. I love chocolate and whipped cream, too, but if I allowed myself to gobble all I could ever hold any hour of the day or night I would be hurling (not a Fifties word, fer shur) before you know it.

    I like partial sentences, too. There are times when I separate what should be a single sentence into two or even three partials. (See above paragraph. I could have reworked sentences 2, 3 and 4 into one sentence, but I didn’t. It would have fixed the problem of starting a sentence with “But”, which, again, is apparently a huge no-no. But I think that much white space adds more emphasis to each thought and it looks like I’m taking a breath. I like that.

    So you see? Good thing this isn’t a text book or even a primer, because you wouldn’t want to have to take lessons from me.

    But one more thing before we move on: I’m really glad to know that my generation knows how to spell the word “definitely”. They’re spelling it “definately” these days and it’s one of those things, like "grammer" for "grammar", or "loose" for "lose", that just bites

    So thank you, my peers, for knowing the difference. It’s the little things, right?


    Really authoritative  article about why grammar rules suck: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Most-of-What-You-Think-You-Know-About-Grammar-is-Wrong-187940351.html#.UQVoAfGuBws.twitter


    (Cross-posted at Constant Commoner)



    Hey, thanks, Flowerchild.  That may be my first A+ EVER!

    I have to admit that I have strong opinions about grammar and spelling, although I usually try to keep them to myself, at least on the internet. (Rule #1, any post criticizing someone else's grammar and/or spelling is highly likely to contain a grammar and/or spelling mistake.)

    So, here's my 3 cents:

    1. When it comes to periods inside of quotations marks, the British are right and we are wrong. I know, theoretically, that a whole culture can't be wrong with respect to grammar, but in this case we are.
    2. When it comes to number of spaces between sentences, it's not WordPress that's against you, it's HTML. No matter how many (regular) spaces you put into plain HTML, it gets turned into one. That said, you can always do non-breaking spaces, but I refuse to tell you how to do that.
    3. As for ellipses, both ". . ." and "..." are wrong. The correct way is the "…" symbol. That's a single character, which on the Mac can be typed by [Alt]+; (semicolon), in HTML can be expressed as "…" (alternatively, one can use "…" or "…"), on Windows can be typed by [Alt]+0133, and on Linux can be typed by first typing [Ctrl]+[Shift]+u (to enter Unicode mode), and then typing "8230". I'm sure this is far more than you wanted to know, but, hey, you brought it up.



    But seriously, that's not that different from my typical grade in English. Speaking of which, this part of the post in particular spoke to me:

    Writing clearly is our goal here and, yes, there are rules, but if you let yourself get bogged down by rules early on, there will be no later on.

    VA, I'm the first to admit that what this world needs more of are good editors. (Ouch!  Let me rewrite that:  "What this world needs are more good editors.")   I could use one full time and nobody knows that better than me. (I???)  But this book is written for beginners and especially for older people who are being nagged to write their memoirs but can't get started because the effort is too daunting. 

    I'm trying to get them to realize that writing is like cooking--that it can be fun and the final product can still be delicious even if it's not your their life's work and you're they're not taking the whole project all that seriously.

    I'm open to any criticism of my writing mechanics, but I'm not sure I can take it from someone who comes right out and says, "The British are right and we are wrong."

    Just saying. . .


    Let me be absolutely clear (something that I have difficulty with): I thought your writing on this was perfect, even if I quibble with you on details. (Is that clear? It's perfect, except that it's not. wink) Although what I wrote previously does reflect what I actually believe, the emphasis was meant to be read as being tongue-in-cheek. I'm afraid I have a rather British sense of humor (humour?) as well.

    (Oh, and since you asked, since the implied sentence is "nobody knows that better than I do", the correct shortened version is "nobody knows that better than I", unless what you really mean is to compare "that" with "me", as in "nobody knows that better than they know me", which I'm sure you don't mean. smiley)

    Oh, nuts.  I should have used a smiley-face emoticon.  I was smiling--honest. laugh

    I do appreciate your last paragraph explaining the rules for "better than I" instead of "better than me."  I will try to remember it, along with the period INSIDE the quote thingy.  Thanks.  yes

    But I'm not giving up my ellipses.  Don't even try.

    Ramona, the answer to all the nit-pickers and erstwhile grammarians out there is, "I'm not grammatically incorrect, this is my STYLE of writing! I'm Colloquial, dammit!" 


    I'm with you about the ellipses ... Don't even try to take them away from me. wink

    Oh, thank you, Mr. Smith.  We will love our ellipses forever. . .and ever.

    I found this link within the Smithsonian link above.  It's from the Grammarphobia Blog:


    (I'm bookmarking that blog.  Maybe some of it will finally sink in.)

    I really do not know why I enjoy reading about this subject?

    I must have read ten short essays on grammar this year alone and writers do become obsessive about it.

    With all of the twitters and all of the 'professionals' who rush to publish in order to beat the competition I wonder sometimes if there are any rules.

    Of course we grew up with Twain and Faulkner and a number of other writers who loved slang and vernacular.

    I ran into some back and forth at a major newspaper a few months ago. I cannot find pieces right now but basically the argument surrounded a sentence like this:

    He was pissed at his brother because he did not like egg salad.

    The problem with the sentence was that we are not sure exactly who hates egg salad!

    My point is that grammar and its rules supposedly help the reader discern exactly what the writer intended to write!

    This new blog lingo and the newer twitter jargon just baffle me sometimes.

    I only understand about half of what is being communicated on twitter.

    You know the saying:

    I'm all thumbs?

    Twittering appears to be a process whereby the would be communicator is simply thumbing his/her nose at grammar; at order; at the English Language.

    Okay, that is enough ranting for now.

    It sure will be fun to read your book though!

    Richard, I actually do take grammar, spelling and punctuation seriously.  Since I have no editor when I'm writing my blog, I worry about the things I've missed and comb over it obsessively until I can't focus anymore.  Then I publish it.  Then I read it again and find all kinds of mistakes and go back to editing.  Sometimes I don't find the mistakes until months or years later, and I go back and edit, hoping nobody noticed.  (But I just know they did. . .)

    A lot of new young writers tend to want to go with the flow and just get it out there with no thought to how it should be done.  I've run into many of them who think writing anything beyond a first draft is "stifling".  Blogging is perfect for them, I'm sorry to say.

    But I think of the older people who have so many stories to tell and don't know where to start. When I was teaching in Adult Ed many of them came to my classes simply to learn how to write well enough to get those stories down.  I realized I had to keep it light and not worry about the mechanics until much later, when they were comfortable enough with their writing to accept some suggestions on how to make it clear and concise and readable.

    That's sort of how this chapter got started.  I made fun of the rules until they got it that some rules make sense. (And I really have no business trying to teach anybody about grammar and punctuation!!)

    I get what you're saying about Twitter but I love it and I learn so much from those Twits. Especially when something big is happening.  Then I head straight for Twitter.  The key is in choosing the people you want to spend time with.  Just like in real life!



    Okay, I have got to render unto Ramona the Dayly Line of the Day for this here Dagblog Site given to all of her from all of me for this gem:

    I get what you are saying, but I love it and I learn so much from those Twits.


    I am sure that this was not your intention, but I fail to learn much from those twits. hahahahaha



    Oh, I meant it all right.  But thanks for the honor.  I'm honored!

    Unlefs I mifs my guefs, English is always evolving, and using word processing software and html certainly has had a recent effect. A long time ago I had a GF that used two spaces between sentences, and I tried it but it screws up word wrap.

    Wouldn't the ellipsis have first been three dots applied with pounce or a quill pen? Then typesetters would have used blocks of periods. None of my typewriters had ellipsis keys, but ASCII does have special characters, if you can remember them.

    I just do what looks good to me. Hate partial sentences. Mostly.



    Ha ha, Donal, you're right that English is always evolving, but that evolution is never free-wheeling.  There are always those headmasters who decide to make the rules, and if we don't follow them, we're stoopid.

    I admit I'm torn between trying to follow them and flinging the damn things to the winds.  If I pay too much attention to them I choke, and if I pay too little attention, I know my mistakes are all the people who know about these things will see.  It's a dilemma only if I think about it too much.

    And obviously I don't.


    I just read your link.  That is the first time I understood what a split infinity was.  Me, I just let the words fall as I think while writing.  I am a poor speller so that is where I focus. I still remember Sr. Richard embarrassing me in front of the 6th grade class for miss spelling "tomorrow," so every time I write that word I break out in a sweat.  She left me with spelling PTSD and I have many trigger words from that year in her class room.  

    There is no way I can control not hitting the space bar twice after the period.  All those years banging a way on a Underwood has left me a hopeless case.

    When I am reading comments on other blogs I have a hard time figuring out the acronyms that are being used now.  I really need a decoder ring sometimes.

    I get frustrated when the writer uses their thesaurus function on their computer and pull out a obscure word for effect and I have no clue what it is.  So I have to pull out my 6 inch thick dictionary from the 1970's and look it up. (I kept it to prop up tots at the dinner table.)  That is why I like reading Krugman because he keeps his writings about economics at a conversational level and saves his broad economic language for his research papers.

    Thank you for the fun blog.   

    Ha, Momoe.  "Spelling PTSD"!   Don't feel too bad; there are plenty of PhD's who can't spell, either.  I know.  I used to have to transcribe and correct their messes when I worked at a university hospital.  There was no question that they were smart and knew their jobs--they just couldn't spell.

    I just figure if we're writing for fun, it should be fun.  If we want to be understood, it should be clear.  If we want to be published, we need to follow rules.

    I love to read whatever you've written, Momoe.  It's comfort writing.  Like comfort food. When I see your name here I look forward to reading it, and that's really the bottom line.   We wouldn't be putting it out there if we didn't want people to read  what we wrote. 

    Thanks. I try not to over think or analyse the political moves that are being made. I let all the "pearl clutching" to be done by our resident concern trolls. I keep my ear on the ground here at the grass root. I attended a rally yesterday at the local court house steps because Tallahassee state house started the 2013 session. The rallies took place all over the state for voter rights. It has now been made the first order of business here in Florida. Many voters are still angry. I can't predict how politics will play out in the state.

    The thing about being wrong about grammar is whether if one was taught a certain way, and one never came across a dissenting opinion, is one capable of being wrong. The individual is communicating with the sincerity of doing the right thing. This is different from knowing the rules and choosing to ignore them. I was taught that if one skipping a portion of a sentence then one used three..., but if the next word was used would have occurred after one or more periods then one used four.... That makes sense to me, and unless someone can offer a legitimate reason why I shouldn't operate with this particular rule, I will with the full belief that I am being grammatically correct

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