(This column appears in several newspapers in Indiana, so it will be published after National Grammar Day, even though it's published the day before on my blog.)
It was National Grammar Day this past Saturday, and as a writer, I could not have been more thrilled about it. It's Word Nerd Christmas.
First, I got up and watched the Punctuation Parade, which was led off by the Left Parentheses float, followed by several marching bands, horses and riders, all followed by the Right Parentheses float bringing up the rear.
And, of course, everyone loved the three young girls — called the Ellip-sisters — running after the rest of the parade, giving it an indeterminate yet understood ending.
Later in the afternoon, I watched the Interjection Bowl, sponsored by Smith-Corona. (Official motto: "Remember, if you're not using Smith-Corona, you're not our type.")
This year, the Nebraska State University Fighting Gerunds gave a thrashing to the Plymouth University Crimson Conjunctions, who, ironically enough, couldn't string together a series of plays to even get on the scoreboard.
All in all, it was a great National Grammar Day, and I can't wait for National Punctuation Day, which will happen on September 24, 2023. It's my favorite language-related holiday, period.
I love language, and all its parts, which comes with being a writer. For example, I love the Oxford comma — the comma that comes before the "and" in phrases like "Moe, Larry, and Curly."
Athletes have their favorite equipment and superstitions. House builders have their favorite tools and architectural styles. And accountants have their favorite. . . I don't know, pencils? Numbers? I don't understand the inner mysteries of accountants' minds.
I've said before that I'd earned the reputation of being a grammar stickler, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I mean, yes, I like knowing about grammar and punctuation. And I love language and learning about new words.
If I could, I would get a tattoo of an Oxford comma on my wrist. That way, when I raised my hand, it could also be an apostrophe. But my wife is dead set against me getting a tattoo and will not budge on this matter.
But I don't go around correcting people about their mistakes other than to yell at a podcast. But I don't correct real people out loud. That would be rude.
Correcting people about their driving? That's an entirely different matter. Some people need to be told when they're doing it wrong.
What makes me feel worse is when people apologize to me after saying or writing something incorrectly, as if they've committed some unpardonable sin, like using "farther" instead of "further."
Look, it's not like you stabbed the waiter with the wrong fork or farted in front of a nun. I'm not the Grammar President. I don't give people grammar tickets. I didn't even take any writing classes in college beyond the two I was supposed to take in order to graduate, so I'm the last person who should correct others about the importance of using proper English.
For one thing, there's no such thing as "proper" English because that belittles other types of English spoken in different parts of the country or the world. People have different accents, they have different sayings, and they use English differently.
For example, in Indiana, we have something called the "needs washed" construction. As in, "The car needs washed." Or "I shot him because he needed killing."
Felony murder aside, those are not considered "proper" English because it should be "the car needs to be washed" or "he needed to be killed." However, it's considered acceptable English in our part of the country because we've always done it that way.
Plus, that guy was asking for it.
A better term is "standard" English, which is the kind they teach in schools. The kind that we're supposed to use in business communication or when we write books. But even standard English is filled with outdated ideas and incorrect rules, so don't get me started.
But I don't care if people speak or write standard English around me. Yes, it's important in business or journalism, but not in conversation. Not in your social media updates. Not in your emails or texts.
I don't even use standard English myself; I break the rules all the time! I'll end my sentences with a preposition, I'll split infinitives, and I'll dangle my participles, and I don't care who sees it.
Besides, the first two rules are wrong, no matter what your English teacher told you. As far as the third one, what I do in my own home is nobody's business.
So there's no need to apologize or feel like you've committed a sin just because you say, "I literally died laughing" or said "less" instead of "fewer." It's really none of my business, and I couldn't care less.
Make no mistake, I'll silently judge you, but I'll never say anything to your face.
I will tell all my writer friends though: "OMG, you guys, you'll never believe it! Denise from the coffee shop just used an adjectival noun phrase to modify a direct object gerund!"
And then we'll laugh so hard our wheat grass smoothies will shoot out our noses and give us nosebleeds.
Photo credit: Tom Magliery (Flicr, Creative Commons 2.0)
My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, will be re-released on March 11. You can pre-order it here.