Grammar Day 2015

On March 4, word nerds, grammar gurus, and language artists collectively brandish their red pens to celebrate National Grammar Day.

But I get a little nervous when self-described sticklers and grammar police make finding typos and rule breakers their singular cause—the goal almost always seems to embarrass, not aid. And yet, I’ve cheered grammatical goofs. There’s a fabulous card sitting on my desk depicting a conversation between two women:

“Where’s your birthday party at?”

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.”

“Where’s your birthday party at, bitch?”

My old coworkers and I still giggle about an e-mail someone circulated after a rough project:

“We know that this was difficult. Thank you for your patients.”

Someone pinned a flyer about lifesaving punctuation to my cabinet:

Let’s eat grandma.

Let’s eat, grandma.

And, as a diehard proponent of the Oxford comma, I enjoy the below example:

We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.

We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

I like to see these examples as grammatical merriment at a rule’s expense. I’m old enough that my grade school curricula included black-and-white grammar lessons and extensive sentence diagramming. We learned that you never end a sentence with a preposition, split an infinitive, use “they” in a singular context, or write in passive voice (unless, of course, you were taking any sufficiently advanced science classes, wherein all case studies adopted a third-person, passive approach). I get it—children require hard and fast rules to eliminate confusion and encourage growth. Too many exceptions can muddy the waters.

But that’s not life. Sometimes the grammatically correct option sounds wrong and risks alienating a reader (or client). Editors are not gatekeepers to arcane realms of language—we’re crafters who shape words for intent, value, and audience. The hard-nosed, dog-whistle teachers and editors who clamor about esoteric errors fail to acknowledge that most readers really don’t care (nor should they). Grammar exists to assist clarity and help articulate a message, but our English is hardly standard. Language evolves.  

This morning, I spent five minutes taking Grammarly’s quiz @Mededitor shared on Twitter, and was subsequently delighted when it returned the title “The Enlightened Grammarian.” Because I’m shameless, I’ve excerpted the description below:

“You know your stuff when it comes to proper English grammar and writing, but you’re not overly traditional. Language does evolve, after all! Chances are high that you’re fascinated, rather than put off by, the verbing of nouns or the disappearing ‘whom.’ You have balanced the standardization of language with the practical usage.”

I love this, precisely because it illustrates the type of editor I’m working hard to become: one who celebrates, rather than polices, the evolution of the written word.

Happy Grammar Day, friends.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Samantha Freply
March 5, 2015 at 12:32 am

Well said! For that quiz, I also got "The Enlightened Copyeditor." I gleefully shared this quiz with two of my colleagues, who I just knew were going to get the pedant one. I don't think either of them realized there was a prescriptivist and descriptivist approach to grammar, and I think this will help clear the air in the future when we discuss grammar rules.

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