Hard Habit to Brake: The Compulsive Grammarian

- by E. C. Ambrose

If you’re anything like me, that title is already killing you. You are itching to correct me.  To find a bottle of virtual white-out and make it right!  Too bad.

Generally speaking, I only torture characters, but today, I get to torture you, my fellow authors.  ‘Cause this is exactly what I want to talk about:  the compulsive grammarian.

We writers have a number of. . . quirks.  We have trouble turning off the inner editor long enough to write our own works.  We struggle to disable the inner author long enough to enjoy the works of others.

Our families d0n’t want to sit through movies with us because they know we’ll spend the drive home speculating about why they didn’t see the plot-holes in the second act, and how they missed the perfect symbolic last image.  And we have a problem with displays of poor grammar in public.

We try not to literally correct the verbal mistakes of others–we know that’s bad form.  But the written word?  That’s our stuff–that’s our territory they are littering with their poor punctuation and homonym substitutions!  There are websites for people like us, for instance, http://thegrammarvandal.wordpress.com/ and http://www.illiteratebusinesses.ca/ where the authors post photos of foibles of signs and advertising.

My favorites are the errors that convert the text to the complete opposite of its intended meaning.  For instance, the bank ad in a local theater playbill including a quote from a poem.  The poem is meant to pay tribute to soldiers, and describes their valor in being willing to sacrifice “for honors’ sake.”  Er. . . if they are sacrificing for the sake of “honor,” that’s great and noble.  If they are sacrificing for “honors,” then they’re just in it for the glory.  It bugs me every time.

How do we hold back Conan the Grammarian?  Or perhaps the question is, should we?  Errors that are excusable in the homework of a fourth grader or on the yard sale sign of the family down the street are one thing, errors in public, errors which should have been caught first by the writer, then by whomever is paid to produce the materials are something else.  At least two sets of educated eyes have reviewed this stuff–in the case of the playbill, probably many more.  And *nobody* caught this?

I don’t want to be one of those people who point out the motes in the eyes of others, and in many cases, there’s not much they can do either–pay for a new sign?   Pull the ad?  It’s a little late for that.  I suppose the best I can hope for is an adequately funded and supervised educational system, and perhaps a set of little apostrophes that I can add at will.  Fortunately, I can simply collect them from where they do not belong, and save them up for later!


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