If you’ve done any volume of writing, you can probably relate. Beyond a signature style, authors sometimes have words they use more often, or in this case, concepts and sentence pieces. A surprising number of them have to do with actions the characters are taking. The tweet got an enormous number of responses, causing the topic to trend on twitter. The whole thing gives the impression of characters doing things without the authors’ permission.
And I mean… they probably shouldn’t. But whether they’re blinking might not always be relevant. And she’s not the only one whose characters have gotten a little unruly.
Why won’t these characters hold still? Don’t they know what medium they’re in?
It isn’t always character wrangling, though. Sometimes the words won’t work. Or sometimes there are just too many of them.
Paraphrasing yourself is a lovely new take on the self drag. Though the original tweet’s tone was of amused annoyance, in some cases it devolved into actual advice, as though THAT’s going to change anything.
I mean, sure, you’re probably right, but sometimes a person’s gotta shrug. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Only when the moment’s right, I guess.
Ellen Jovin started Grammar Table on more or less of a whim on September 21st, 2018, in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The idea was simple: sit in a public space with a sign that encourages passersby to ask her questions related to grammar and language. To her surprise, the questions came flooding in.
Image via the buffalo news
Jovin is well qualified for the role. She is a founder of Syntaxis, a communication skills training consultancy, and the creator of a language-learning website called Words & Worlds of New York. She also has a B.A. from Harvard in German studies and an M.A. in comparative literature from UCLA.
“I bring to this undertaking a sense of grammar humility,” Jovin told The Buffalo News. “Too many people think they know everything and they freely dispense bad advice in a condescending way.”
Jovin wants to reclaim the trope of the stuffy, overcritical grammarian. Proper grammar isn’t always as ironclad as it may seem. There are legitimate conversations to be had about the use of an em dash in contrast to a semicolon, the use of the pronoun ‘whom,’ or the integrity of an Oxford comma. Language changes from generation to generation, and we need grammarians like Ellen Jovin to guide us down a path that will allow us to communicate our ideas effectively and beautifully.
Image via NYTimes
Jovin has recently embarked on a Grammar Table tour across the US, and we can also expect a documentary and book coming from her in the future!
Look, I get it. This is the modern world. This is the internet. Punctuation and spelling are fluid and evocative. The linguistics of the internet are fast moving and instinctive, and I love that. But let’s talk about Oxford comma.
I know we’re not passionate about actually using punctuation here. Every time I see someone use a period at the end of a text, I feel the kind of primordial fear I thought was reserved for life or death situations. And don’t get me started on the most ominous punctuation choices of all…..
Sure, it’s the serif font of punctuation. It seems old fashioned at best, effected superfluous. Darn, I forgot the oxford comma, but I’m sure it still made sense.
Image via KnowYourMeme
Context is a beautiful thing, of course, but those would be galaxy brain names for some rhinoceri. You can assume, but you can’t be sure. Maybe the rhino tamer is just a huge history nerd. Here are my emus, Jefferson and Adams.
Sure, people who overuse commas are pedants (eh-hem), but sometimes they’re necessary. If the point is to be understood, why make people guess? Not everyone is going to know your rhinoceros naming philosophies.
Image via edudemic
Grammar doesn’t have to be stressful. Here are all these people, including rhinoceroses. If you’re describing something, no Oxford comma. Or, these are my rhinoceri. Here are their names. Let’s try and take ourselves seriously.
Not to be unrelateable, but just like grammar.
Even if you don’t feel the same, though, the Oxford comma isn’t to be dropped. I don’t know the last time I used a period, but these days, we write for clarity. We capitalize words for Emphasis. Drop what doesn’t work, but keep what does. Internet language is streamlined, and I think that’s beautiful. Let’s keep it that way. But don’t eat grandma in the process.
The evolution of language is nothing to fear… unless thou art living in Medieval times, which, incidentally, is when the first documented use of the singular ‘they’ took place. Some people don’t like it when words like ‘bougie’ or ‘TL;DR’ become words in a more official capacity… even though, clearly, we’re already using them. We call those people ‘elitists:’ people who think language is sacred and untouchable, that Shakespeare couldn’t drop profundities and make dick jokes at the exact same time.
Image Via The Mary SUE
One of the greatest things about language is that it’s constantly evolving to encapsulate new experiences, to help us better express ourselves. In 1996, the phrase ‘face palm’ was added to the dictionary—and you bet your ass 1996 was not the first time anyone expressed behavior so frustrating the only response was to bury your head in your hands. In 2018, the Oxford English Dictionary added ‘pansexual‘ to its lexicon, a term that had been around for nearly ONE HUNDRED years prior. Placing words we use to define gender and sexuality doesn’t define whether or not the experience exists: it does. That’s WHY there’s a word for it. What it really means is a granting of legitimacy. An acknowledgement of a lifetime of human experience.
(Don’t want pansexuality to be legitimized? Thou must get a grip.)
Image Via The Advocate
But these new Scrabble rules might just have all of us gripping the edges of the table and trying our best not to flip it… or flip out. More TWO-LETTER words? Comma on. (OK, that was bad, I know.) But speaking of OK, this word is one of the hotly contested new additions to the game. Another one is EW, which is what you’ll be yelling when someone ruins your next move. It’s not that I’m some purist who thinks ‘ok’ instead of ‘okay’ has anything to do with I.Q. points, but seriously: someone dropping a two-letter word and therein preventing you from playing any tiles is enough to make anyone face palm.
Among the more exciting new additions to the Scrabble game are ‘shebagging’ (when a female passenger places her bag on the empty seat next to her; has manspreading finally met its match?) and ‘zomboid’ (resembling a zombie, a.k.a. you leaving the club). The most controversial addition is sure to be the debatably annoying and certainly outdated ‘bae,’ a divisive term that may or may not have caused many a bae to split up.
Remember that notoriously difficult X tile? Well, with new words like ‘dox’ and ‘vax,’ you’ll be able to get rid of those bad boys. Of course, to your opponent, you’ll become the bad boy.
Gif Via Giphy
“It used to be that if you put a K down, you knew your opponent couldn’t play across the top of it – it will be a change of mindset,” said Brett Smitheram, the 2016 Scrabble World Champion. With truly chaotic energy, he added, “but that’s the joy of it.”
He also calls Scrabble an “adrenaline sport.” Well, it’s about to be.
Recently, a horde of raving copy editors swarmed Providence, RI for the conference of the American Copy Editors’ Society (Twitter handle #ACES2019). ‘Ace’ (as in very good) might seem a little zesty for a bunch of grammar enthusiasts, a group of people generally not known for their love of fun. (Of course, anyone who thinks grammar is not fun has clearly never gotten drunk and argued with me about em-dashes.) Before we get into the new rules, let’s talk about what they mean—or don’t.
Grammar is often intrinsically linked to a variety of social issues—in particular, gender, race, and class. There has been increasing debate about the use of the singular ‘they,’ and, while many argue passionately in favor of making the official change, many are not as enthusiastic. (Note: this frequently has more to do with bigotry than a passion for grammar.) Still, the use of ‘he or she,’ as opposed to ‘they,’ remains on the most menacing test of grammar: the SAT*. Of course, the haters ignore that Shakespeare himself, pinnacle of high culture and known maker of dick jokes, used the singular they.
Image Via Quick & Dirty tips
*The SAT also has a number of questions devoted to concision (the most efficient possible use of language). For instance, it would be grammatically incorrect to say, “I walked onto the hot and sweltering beach.” Since ‘sweltering’ conveys more information than ‘hot’ and yet means nearly the same thing, using both is redundant. It seems confusing (also somewhat infuriating) that ‘he and she’ is less concise than ‘they’ and is somehow more correct.
Gender is hardly the only issue at play. English teachers have frequently approached rage bordering on a medical incident at words they perceive to be ‘improper English.’ But AAVE (African American Vernacular English) isn’t slang, isn’t unintelligent. Think of it this way: Americans from the East Coast might say ‘soda’ to mean a carbonated beverage; Americans from the Midwest might say ‘pop.’ Neither of those people are wrong—as much as it pains me to admit. (Pop people, you may not be wrong, but you are weird. Sorry.) Those among us who use AAVE are far less weird than these unhinged pop-drinkers. They are using an established dialect with grammar rules as rigorously structured as any other.
Image Via Her caMPUS
In AAVE, negative concord—what your angriest English teacher would call a double negative—is a common phenomenon (think ‘he ain’t never’). Your angriest English teacher might become even angrier if you dropped this truth bomb: double negatives are extremely common in languages throughout the world. Ever taken a French class? Je n’ai jamais any idea that people thought ‘proper’ language use correlates directly with intelligence. It does not. ‘Proper’ language use correlates with a certain sort of education—and that education, unfortunately, correlates with money.
Grammar is useful when it helps us to clarify our points, to add nuanced tone and meaning to our communication. That’s all it is: a tool intended for use when applicable. You wouldn’t use a hammer to fix a broken lamp. And you wouldn’t use glue to fix a lamp that wasn’t broken at all.
Does it seem odd for someone so passionate about grammar to insist on its arbitrariness? I sure bet it does. But perhaps it’s far more strange to consider language so sacred when all the time we maketh new jokes; we createth new terms; and, if thou don’t like it, thou can shove it up thine ass. Language evolves. Let’s be evolved enough to understand that.
Image Via PR DAILY
Pictured above is a tweet concerning a grammar rule that no longer exists. Two years ago, it was correct. Let’s just establish that human beings are the ones making these decisions—human beings who, in being human, probably do ludicrously stupid things like pull repeatedly on push doors and pound Fireball whiskey. Do we have any obligation to listen to people like that? Like us? Maybe. Listening is one thing, but, besides grades and workplace requirements, there’s nothing compelling us to obey.
Here are the new rules: split infinitives are now acceptable, which means you can ‘boldly go’ instead of ‘go boldly,’ which is way less dramatic. You’re all good to write the percent symbol instead of the actual word ‘percent,’ which makes us 100% happy. The hyphen is going away in all cases where the meaning of the word is readily apparent. (Billion-dollar industry one such case in which the hyphenated word, ‘dollar,’ clearly refers to the word ‘billion.’ No one would mistake this term for dollarindustry—although, arguably, all industries are dollar industries).
Being a grammar nerd doesn’t always mean adhering to every grammar rule. Nerdiness is just the sort of passion that people like to yell at you for, and an intense love for grammar is truly a geekier-sounding passion for language. There’s a difference between following the rules and understanding what they mean—and don’t. If you do the former, you should do the latter, too.