Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Eunice

by Michael Dymmoch

When I was a child, back in the stone age, editors knew the rules of grammar. And publishers adhered to the rules. I hated school back then and got through it by daydreaming or sitting in the back of the classroom, reading—something impertinent but interesting. I never studied the rules of grammar, but I learned how to diagram sentences. And since the books I read had been well written and properly edited, I didn’t do too badly on written assignments. In college, my rhetoric professor told me I didn’t need to name the parts of speech as long as I could use them properly.

I found the Red Herrings around the time my first book was published. Led by Phebe Waterman, the writing group met weekly at Scotland Yard Books: David Walker, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Ron Levitsky, Eunice Fikso, and I—among others. Eunice was old—sixty at least. She was well read and well schooled in grammar. She had little patience for unintentional violations of the rules.

Eunice moved away and, eventually, passed away. Scotland Yard Books closed. But the Red Herrings continued, adding and dropping members as the years flew by. We still meet weekly. David and I still participate. Libby Hellmann has replaced Phebe as our unofficial leader.

And I’ve replaced Eunice. I’m usually the first to pontificate on a dangling participle, or to get apoplectic over lack of agreement between parts of speech. And not just in the writing group. I can’t concentrate on TV news. I’m too incensed that the people writing it for anchors to read can’t get their grammar facts straight. If they don’t bother to be accurate with grammar facts, how am I to trust the accuracy of their news facts? And if the people reading the teleprompters aren’t smart enough to recognize and correct grammar mistakes, why should I trust their reporting?

TV commercials are even worse. I should trust my child’s education to a tutoring company that offers to let you Learn how Sylvan can help your child reach their full potential? And should I trust my eyesight to a company that offers Two complete pair of glasses for only ninety-nine dollars? Thanks, but I’d rather have my eye wear made by people who speak English adequately. There’s a better chance they’ll read the prescription correctly and… You get the idea.

I’ve ranted before on this subject, but it keeps coming up. I believe that fuzzy speech is indicative of fuzzy thinking—or strong drink. And I believe I’ve turned into Eunice.

19 comments:

Bryan Gruley said...

Glad you're vigilant, Michael. Whenever I think grammar and punctuation and such, I think of diagramming sentences in John Kessel's ninth-grade English class at Detroit Catholic Central High School. I actually kinda liked it, in the same way that I liked geometry (but not physics). It was a great way to learn grammar, and I still occasionally picture a diagram when I'm trying to figure out the gramatically proper way to say something.

Then of course, there's Moe of the Three Stooges. When accused of using bad grammar, Moe snapped, "What's my Grandma got to do with it?"

Barbara D'Amato said...

Yes, yes, Michael. I used to love diagramming sentences. It seemed to clarify a lot about the relationships of words.

Bryan and Michael--have you read SISTER BERNADETTE'S BARKING DOG by Kitty Burns Florey? It's all about diagramming. Fascinating stuff about the development of diagramming and wonderful, funny examples. You'd really like this book.

Herrien said...

Nice post, thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information with us.

Green Tea

Michael Dymmoch said...

Brian,
School might be more fun if diagramming sentences was introduced to kids as a game. And speech would be improved.

Barb,
I've been giving Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog to young relatives since you first mentioned it to me.

Herrien,
You're welcome.

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