Today grammar is uppermost in my mind. Why? It is the roadmap to understanding and, as such, a writer’s best weapon. After all, we want our readers to understand our meaning; in fact, doesn’t all writing beg to be understood? Or what’s the writing for?
Back in the dark ages when I was teaching English there were three distinct forms of language that people might use: slang, informal and formal. (Of course there was another form–incorrect.) I remember then being very clear on the differences between the forms and the uses of each and teaching that a person should have mastery of all three. Slang was used for very casual communication and often for effect. Informal was the language most people spoke most of the time. And formal was that sometimes a little stilted but very correct language reserved for such things as application letters. At that time the language used by the anchor woman or man on major news stations was considered formal.
Not so, today. Everyone seems to speak everything in every situation. And I hate it. Flexing my word muscles in public sometimes wins me strange comments. “Oh, the English teacher!” Speaking correctly is somehow denigrated and designated pretentious or showy. And so I try to blend in. I’ve said my share of ‘ya done goods’ even though they have never felt right. And I know that language is a living, transitional thing, otherwise Shakespeare’s words would be transparently clear to everyone, even if they were written over four hundred years ago.
Sometimes, though, people just err. They make errors. And we laugh, or groan, or cry, but we can’t seem to stop the flow of mistakes. Take, for instance, the blatant use of the apostrophe. People don’t know how to use it correctly but they like the look of it, I guess, so just put it in willy-nilly. For example: Jone’s Electronics. Do you know anyone named Jone? Or its’ all coming back. There is, by the way, NEVER a time to use its’. Here is the rule: it’s=it is; The dog wagged its tail. (The possessive form is its.) One of my favorites was the sign over the village washroom where I used to live: Ladie’s Restroom. Where is that ladie? Have we changed the spelling from lady? And is the restroom only for one lady? (Correct form is Ladies’ Restroom. Now I can rest.)
I know, I know. Only crazy people actually care and if people get the drift, any number of errors have not impeded understanding. But still I shake my head and out loud correct grammar errors from newscasters. To me it makes a difference. Language is beautiful and meaningful to me and many others; in fact, I’ve joined an interesting self improvement course for the next five weeks. It involves reading others’ (note the correct possessive!) written words and I have so far been impressed by my classmates’ lovely, correct use of language. For the most part.
I am thankful that I went to school in a time when teaching the basics of our language was given top priority. It gives me the framework on which to build my plot, my characters, my setting and my theme. As a mechanic has to know the parts of the car’s engine, so a writer has to know grammar. Or find a good editor!