Thursday, April 13, 2006

In Which I Become A Grammar Nazi (Of Sorts)

Maybe it's hereditary?
When I was about 11, I sent my paternal grandfather a letter - an actual letter, not an obligatory thank you note - telling him about my new school and life in general. He sent it back to me with my grammar mistakes circled in red pen. Yeah, that was the last letter he ever got from me. I continued to correspond with my other grandfather for 15 years, but THAT man? No way. He totally blew it right then and there.

My father was never quite that obnoxious. To this day, he still corrects my French and English and sometimes misses the whole point of what I'm trying to tell him, but I don't get bent out of shape about it. In fact, on occasion I've been able to give as good as I got. One of my favorite moments of all times was getting to correct his correction by being able to explain in complete detail the French grammar rule that he had learned incorrectly. He is a good sport and we've spent hours looking things up together. When this book came out, we sent each other copies that crossed in the mail. I have had to explain (and frequently remind) my father that his parental status may give him the right to correct me forever and ever amen, but it does not extend to correcting other adults, even those related by marriage (e.g. my first husband or my in-laws for heaven's sake!)

"Really Daddy! Don't be rude." I used to say. But what I wanted to say was, "Oh now you've done it! Now I'll have to listen and be sympathetic and reassuring all the way home to smooth his ruffled feathers! Can't you just let it go for once?" My ex was very defensive and I had to put up with a lot of "Who does that man think he is?" after these episodes. My new husband? You know what he does? He says things to my father like "Hey, where's your phone book at?" On purpose. He totally loves getting my dad's goat. I think Sweet Hubby is just angling for a way to work in the phrase 'up with which I will not put' a la Churchill, but so far my father hasn't fallen for it. Falling for it or not, my dad loves my new husband. My father couldn't imagine why a sane man would date a woman with three young sons, but he realized Sweet Hubby was perfect for me when he heard us arguing over which dictionary was authoritative enough to decide our word squabble. He immediately gave us his blessing.

I've never been much of a grammar nazi myself, or so I thought. I decided early on that the grammar nazi gene must skip generations or something. Sure, it made my eye twitch to hear the ladies at daycare tell my son to "lay down", but I didn't ever say anything about it. I was sure that the minute I corrected anyone I'd hear back, "Hey Pot, this is the Kettle. You're black too!" After all, I have creative punctuation and I like to make up words and run-on sentences and fragments are fun!! Recently though, I've come to realize how judgmental I really am. I can forgive dangling participles and random captilization. I can (easily) ignore ignore split infinitives (and pointless paranthetical expressions). Fiddling with idioms or using the completely wrong word, however, grates on my nerves.

The poor lady next to me at the nail salon the other day has things that grade on her nerves. I'm lucky THAT isn't my problem. My problem is that I've realized how much I subconciously believe that the inability to tell the difference between certain words and phrases indicates stupidity. My son, Chaos, drives me batshit by saying things like, "Wow. That musta cost a leg and an arm." He's a smart guy, but I just know that someday he's going to say something like "For all intensive purposes..." and I'm going to LOSE it. Don't those people make you want to SCREAM?!!!!!!!!

The grammar nazi gene has clearly not skipped me although I've only gotten partial expression. Perhaps the gene has been damaged somewhat as it's been transmitted down through the ages? Sadly, I've come to the conclusion that it has skipped Chaos entirely. Or worse. What if the grammar gene is recessive and the malaprop gene is dominant? What if caring about the correct use of homophones is merely a remnant (a vestigal appendage) of a predisposition for grammatical skills? What if the ability to perceive grammatical choices (much less the ability to make 'correct' ones) is becoming extinct while hereditary malapropism is on the rise? What if my ex's genes are more powerful than mine in the long run???

Given the evidence, this is conceivable. Probable even. Chaos' father sent me the following in conclusion to a battle we've been having over how to handle what happened last week. He wrote, "On the subject of [our son], and the consequences of his suspension, I respect your opinion, but I defer in it." Wouldn't it be peachy if he did 'defer'? Alas, I can only conclude from contextual clues (aka scathing remarks earlier in the email) that he really means 'differ'. There is hope for Chaos though, even if his high school English teacher and I have no effect on his malapropishness. I know I worried here about his career options, but just this morning I was told there people like him in major corporate headquarters.

At our Burger King (yes, the same folks who brought you this), the new digital ordering screen has a streaming banner across the bottom that says, "We now except credit cards!!!!!" When I asked the nice manager if she could perhaps change it, she replied, "Naw. There's nuthin' can be done from heyah. You have to talk to the folks at the Big Office. I think they check those things real good." Yes. I'm sure they do. I wonder if they will still be excepting job applications when Chaos is ready to enter the workforce.


Deb R said...

Omigawd, this made me laugh. I can SO relate. I'm guilty of murderizing (har!) loads of grammar and spelling rules. I adore random capitalization, made-up words, and excessive use of paranthetical asides. I love ellipses, and exclamation marks. I tend to put commas everyplace I'd take a breath if I was talking aloud.

But let someone talk about getting their dog or cat SPADED in front of me, or let someone say "want to go to the store with Mary and I?" and my eye starts to twitch and my teeth start to grind and oh just isn't pretty.

People are only supposed to break the rules I LIKE to see broken, not the ones that drive me nuts. Don't they KNOW that?? Ahem.

St. Ann said...

Hey, Wonder Twin, ever wonder why you're someone out with whom I like to hang? Me neither. But that's a whole nother (heehee) post.

Lilymane said...

HOW could I have forgotten about 'out with whom I like to hang' ??!!!! St. Ann - you rock!