Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On being a Grammar Snob.

Current mood: smart
My high school English teacher refused to grade a paper if it had any grammatical errors. He would simply hand it back to you if there was a single misplaced comma, typo, split infinitive, misused em-dash, or any other punctuation problems. He would not tell you where the mistake was; you had to find it yourself.

This may seem harsh to you, but I appreciated the value of a grammatically-perfect essay. It trained everyone in the class to love Strunk and White. It trained us to shudder at a misused "whom." We all became grammar snobs. After all, there must be order somewhere in this crazy world.

I've been writing bits and pieces here and there for Velocity Weekly, a mainstream Gannett-owned weekly newspaper, and I am irritated with them. For the past two pieces I've written, they have: EDITED OUT MY SEMICOLON!

I love a good semicolon, and, dammit, I know how to use one properly.

Does Velocity believe that its readers are not intelligent enough to understand the subtleties a semicolon can convey? Does the copy reader not believe that I used it correctly? Do they not care that it changed the meaning behind my sentence?

What i wrote: Sometimes the song works as a
nice, sweet goodbye; sometimes it's a nice, sweet
middle finger. Either way, it's always about keeping

What was published: Sometimes the song works as a
nice, sweet goodbye, but sometimes it's a nice, sweet
middle finger. Either way, it's always about keeping

The difference is subtle, but, to me, it's vast.

When I expressed my annoyance at being edited, a friend sent me an essay about the semicolon. The article suggests that the semicolon is "girlie," and that America doesn't use it anymore because of its nuances and complexities. Whatever.

Also, a few weeks ago, when I wrote a review of Nas's new record, the copy editor changed a possessive apostrophe. The type read: "Nas' record" instead of "Nas's record." I know you're going to fight me on this one. The rule, for the record, is that when it's an ancient name ending in "s", such as Jesus or Aquinas, you just add an apostrophe to create the possessive, as in Jesus' or Aquinas' With a modern name, such as Nas, you add the apostrophe-plus-s. The verdict is still out on what to do with Elvis. I vote for Elvis' because he's just that important.

Yes, I understand that grammar is constantly evolving and the rules are malleable. But just because the word "irregardless" is in the dictionary now doesn't mean that we should use it.

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