Grammar is…Beautiful

Read this first…

Before you read one more word, please click on this link and read this essay, an excerpt from the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Do it now. I’ll wait. I’ll even wait while you order the book. The rest is as fabulous as the excerpt. Clicking on the title or picture of the book above will whisk you to Amazon via my affiliate link. Just don’t get shopping and forget to return!

Now that you have Paloma’s marvelous take on grammar as “a way to attain beauty,” I’d like to add my own comments to the mix. I could barely sit still when I first read this essay, as I am a grammar maven. I’ve always thought that was a strange-sounding word, maven. It means “expert or connoisseur.” I’m by no means an expert, but I’m certainly a connoisseur.

Though perhaps not as classically beautiful as Fibonacci’s golden spiral in a rose or nautilus, each of grammar’s innate structures is attractive in its own way. Below are a few of my faves…

Continue reading Grammar is…Beautiful

The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers

Why Doesn’t Everyone Use “Proper” English?

I used to be a language snob, complete with William Safire trading card. Growing up with teacher parents who corrected my grammar made me hypersensitive to language rules. (“Where’s he at? Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’!” and “You’re ‘done’? Let’s stick a fork in you!”) Plus, excelling at grammar, punctuation and spelling tempted me to think people who didn’t speak “properly” were uneducated or lazy. How could you hear correct grammar at school and (sometimes!) on TV and still say, “I didn’t do nothing” or “I should of went fishing”?

My “Aha!” Moment

Then I had a daughter with dyslexia, who not only couldn’t follow the inconsistent, irrational rules of English spelling (How do you pronounce “ghoti”?)* and grammar, but still doesn’t remember the differences between (oops! among) to, two and too.

Another sea-change in my attitude occurred when I read The Story of English by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil. As I railed against Ebonics in the seventies, I was shocked to read that my own “proper” language was the product of hundreds of years of the same sort of evolutionary bastardization. English began as West Germanic, with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving in England and pushing the Celts westward. It was changed by invading Norse speakers in the 9th and 10th centuries and Norman-French speakers in the 11th. During the Renaissance, French, Latin, Greek and Italian influences changed the language and grammar. Scholars tidied up English in the 16th and 17th, but punctuation was still haphazard in the early 17th century. English has been enlarged by words and constructions from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Native Americans. Continue reading The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers

Some ‘Splainin’ About Colons (the Punctuation Kind)

I Love Lucy

Did you catch the I Love Lucy Christmas Special on December 7? The one-hour show comprised “The Christmas Episode” and “Job Switching.” In the latter, Lucy and Ethel tried, but ultimately—and hilariously—failed to keep up with the chocolate factory’s conveyor belt. A poll by the Paley Center for Media named the scene the “funniest TV moment of all time.” Indeed, one of the funniest shows of all time.

One of the unfunniest things writers deal with is punctuation. No one wants to interrupt a good idea wondering whether to insert a comma. But punctuation isn’t meant to make life miserable. It’s meant to clarify meaning. Consider the following:

  • “Let’s eat, Grandma!”
  • “Let’s eat Grandma!”

For lack of a comma, the second Grandma succumbs to a cannibal cabal of grandkids.  Continue reading Some ‘Splainin’ About Colons (the Punctuation Kind)