Tag: punctuation

Spag: Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar

Grammar Rules Are Arbitrary. Here Are the New Ones.

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.

 

"Should they be a generic singular pronoun?"

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.

 

AAVE Grammar Verb Tense Chart

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.

 

Outdated rules of hyphens, all of which have been altered at the recent conference.

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.

 

Featured Image Via Twinkl.

"This is an em dash."

I’m Obsessed With The Em Dash & You Can’t Change My Mind

My love for em dashes is so powerful that, if converted into energy, it could power this website through the upcoming and inevitable nuclear apocalypse. When I asked my coworkers what they thought of em dashes, staff writer Nathaniel Lee asked, “the pretentious dash?” Our CEO, Scott Richmond, added, “the only reason I don’t use them is that they’re too long. It’s all about the space conservation.” Much like my esteemed coworker, he is wrong.*

Let’s go back to grammar school, so y’all can get grammar SCHOOLED.

 

"Why the em-dash should be your best friend"
                   Best friend? The em dash is my only friend. | Image Via SlideShare

 

Parentheses. These are the basic bitches of the grammar world. If they were a statement piece, the statement would be no comment. Parentheses set aside parenthetical phrases—that is, phrases that are unnecessary for the meaning of the sentence. Commas and em dashes accomplish the same task, but em dashes get the points for sheer panache, baby! The whole point of parentheses is that they de-emphasize the nonessential phrase you’re setting aside. Example: Nasopharyngitis (the common cold) may be impossible to eradicate. Nobody’s that excited about the common cold. Come on.

Commas. These are just store-brand em dashes, watered down versions without all that spicy flavor. The comma is a neutral syntactical choice. You’ve heard of the dramatic pause? Get ready for the anticlimactic pause. Example: My girlfriend, a phenomenal cook, made a delicious sandwich. Is it newsworthy that your girlfriend is a phenomenal cook? Unlikely. My girlfriend—Belletrist babe and notorious reader Emma Roberts—made a delicious sandwich. Now, there’s a parenthetical phrase that would transcend commas. (Also, call me, Emma.)

Em dashes. Let’s consider what ‘nonessential’ actually means. Technically, stylistic choices like leopard print coats and pink hair are nonessential. But when you walk into a room, don’t they get the job done? Hell yeah. The air horn of the punctuation world, the em dash does the same thing as parentheses and commas but with an entirely different tone. Example: My sister—who slept with my husband—just asked me for money. Let’s try again: My sister (who slept with my husband) just asked me for money. Did this happen? No. If it did, would I have used an em dash to relay the info? You know it.

 

"Love the em dash."

Image Via Grammarly

 

That being said, even my beloved em dash is not perfect. You know how books sometimes start off with sound effects? Bang. My ex-husband was dead. Wham! My sixteenth birthday, the day of the Trial that would determine my whole future, began when my jealous sister slapped me with my own Timesetter. You get the message. You can’t start off a book with bang! Wham! Crash! Boom! You could, but it would be annoying—and it’s possible you’re annoyed already. Similarly, you can’t fill an article with em dashes (though if you click anything by Krisdee Dishmon, you’ll realize I’ve certainly tried).

Time for Q&A. The major question people have seems to be ‘aren’t these interchangeable?’ That, of course, is a subcategory of all the more pressing questions. ‘Isn’t grammar pointless? Will someone ever want to date you?’ The answer to all three, as you might be shocked to learn, is a resounding NO.

 

Em Dash examples

Image Via Translabo Berlin WordPress

 

For the same reason that you wouldn’t use an exclamation point to conclude an uneventful sentence, you wouldn’t use an em dash for a job that parentheses can do. Can you? Sure. Should you? I say no. As Josh from Drake and Josh would say, it’s for emphasis. EMPHASIS! (Click here if you don’t get that reference.)

You may be wondering whether or not I have a right to this opinion: a passion for em dashes that, if converted into a numeric value, would dwarf the GDP of even the wealthiest nations. Yes, I do. They may not have hired me at my local coffee shop, but, as a creative writing graduate and former English teacher / SAT grammar tutor, I am good for something—even if that thing is yelling on the Internet.

*I respect you very much, Scott. I just also respect the commanding presence of the em dash.

 

Featured Image Via Radix Communications