Grammar Nerd Dream Vacation (and Other Stories)

1. My friend Meg sent me a link yesterday via that handy instant messenger contraption all the kids use: Typo Personalities. I clicked on it and said to her, “All I’ve read so far is the caption, but I am already in love.” (I then went on to read the whole article.) You can go read the article and come back. I’ll wait. Okay, good. Going around the country and informing people of grammatical mistakes in their store signs? Seriously? Brilliant. Yes, I am one of those people who dies a little bit inside every time I see apostrophe abuse. (Who decided it was a good idea to put an apostrophe in a word simply because it ends with the letter S? And why did this idea spread so successfully?)

I know that there are people who will read that article and wonder why those guys went to so much trouble over something that doesn’t matter in the slightest (I know this because I’ve mentioned this article to a few people and the reactions were either “That’s awesome” or “Those guys need to find a date”), and this makes me wonder why it is that caring about grammar makes a person uptight and joyless? I am a firm believer that all writing rules can be broken effectively, but I also believe that it has to be done for a reason other than laziness. Grammar exists so that we can communicate with clarity, and I am all for it. So there.

2. Book critics Louis Bayard and Laura Miller meta-review The Death of the Critic in Who killed the literary critic? (It’s on, so you’re gonna have to sit through an annoying ad.) And who did kill the literary critic? Bloggers? Intellectuals? Those unwashed masses who don’t read books? Colonel Mustard in the library with the rope? Are they even really dead? Are they zombies? Am I asking too many questions?

3. This article was just fun to read. Or at least I thought it was. You know words that perfectly describe what it is they stand for, words that aren’t exactly onomatopoeia? As the article says:

“More like proper nouns than mere words, they match the objects they describe. Pickle, gloomy, portly, curmudgeon–sounds that loop back on themselves to close the circle of meaning. They’re perfect, in their way. They’re what all language wants to be when it grows up.”

I love words like the ones writer James Bottum describes. Words that are fun to roll around on the tongue, to chew on, to savor. Words that go beyond being merely descriptive and turn into something else entirely, something delicious. (I think delicious is one such word.) Conversely, some words don’t seem to do their subjects justice: butterfly? Meh. I prefer the staccato flutter of lepidopteran. (I also like staccato and flutter.) What are some of your favorite words?

11 Responses

  1. Yes sir, grammar is very
    Yes sir, grammar is very important. I admire the duo. I haven’t the gumption to point out other’s mistakes. What about capitalization? I get so itchy over that, but is it simply subjective? Such as, capitalizing each word on a movie poster…it looks so wrong, but as I’ve had explained, it has a purpose. Does that make it okay?

    As for favorite words, you hardly needn’t look further than this list of “charming words sung by Joanna Newsom”: Then again, “plethora” and “ineffable” aren’t on that list.

    I once started a “word wheel” where I strung beads on a spool of thread that I had attatched to my wall. It was quite full when the loose end of the thread (that was stuck to the wall with that gummy poster stuff) fell and the beads went everywhere. It was very discouraging.

  2. In the 18th Century it was
    In the 18th Century it was normal to put apostrophes in plurals. Dr Johnson did it in his dictionary. “Volcano’s”, for example.

    Caring about grammar and spelling isn’t a bad thing – I had a chuckle when a local garage had a sign offering “parts of the shelf” and a guy I work with has a habit of Capitalising most Words He comes across because He thinks They Are Important. (He is also quite jackson-pollock-y with apostrophes.)

    But I’d say it’s important to remember that the “rules” of written English are every bit as fluid as the “rules” of spoken English. They can, they have and they will change.

    I’m one of those who believe that if it’s understood, it’s grammatically correct. And it helps to know the origins of the “rules of grammar” and how they were all made up by 18th and 19th Century minds with a wee bit too much time on their hands, a love of Latin and a pessimistic view in which language was “degenerating”.


    Oh, and “soporific” is one of those words… Listen to the vowels! Oh-oh-ih-ih. I’m being rocked to sleep everytime I hear it.

  3. Rictus is a good word. James
    Rictus is a good word. James Morrow says, “The rictus of a jack-o-lantern.”

    As for grammatical mistakes, maybe the following example is, maybe it’s not:
    Walking to work from the bus stop every morning, I pass a small block building with Heart of the City Hair Salon painted artfully over the door. Further down the wall is painted “Barber” on Duty (the word barber in quotation marks).
    Makes you wonder if it’s a real barber or only sort of a barber.

  4. Hooray for those two guys and
    Hooray for those two guys and their crusade for proper grammar. I don’t see anything wrong with correcting grammar. Nothing burns me up more than an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong. Another pet peeve of mine: substituting incorrect letters for the sake of cuteness (I guess). For example, Kathy’s Kloset or Kathy’s Kountry Kitchen. Why the “K” instead of the correct “C”?

  5. ‘Misogyny’ has got to be the
    ‘Misogyny’ has got to be the favourite word in ‘The Guardian’s’ English vocabulary. And it is no unknown secret that most Europeans have no concept of the letter ‘z’.

  6. If hearing the way Joanna
    If hearing the way Joanna Newsom says “dirigibles” on “The Sprout and the Bean” doesn’t cheer you up, then there’s really no hope for you. Great list.

    Personally, I love “ruckus,” “inexplicable” and “elucidate.”

  7. John, I am especially
    John, I am especially bothered when they do this for children. We have a park here in Jacksonville for children – I think it’s got little rides and educational games, or something – and it’s called Kid’s Kampus. That’s confusing to little kids. They don’t know it’s supposed to be “cute” or whatever unless someone explains it.

    I’ve even seen adults fooled by cutesy misspellings. I once had a supervisor that presented me with an award in a frame. She had designed & printed it on her PC and it looked very professional, except for one thing. It said “Congradulations.” When someone pointed out the error (not me!) she said, “Are you sure? I got it off a graduation card someone gave ny daughter when she graduated from high school.”
    You know the card said “Con-GRAD-ulations.” In this case, I don’t fault the card company, because they didn’t making the card for young children. My supervisor should have known better!

    By the way, is Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond?

  8. Verve is my favorite word.
    Verve is my favorite word. Ever since I read Marvel Comics as a boy, I have always loved words such as annihilate, maximum, and fantastic. I also like those words with the hard Anglo-Saxon sounds, for example, spick and span, squash, scram, scream, and scrape. I like language that has power.

  9. Warren: As we’re in
    Warren: As we’re in pedant-mode… most of the words there are actually Norse in origin. But “squash” is from Old French.

    The *skr* sound just screams Viking at me… (O.N. skræma “to terrify, scare”)


  10. i like “psithurism” (oh, how
    i like “psithurism” (oh, how the tongue rolls, whispers and rustles!) and “onomatopoeia” (i love how the english pronunciation seems to hop and roll along the letters like pebbles along the rapids of a sunlit mountain streambed here)…

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