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.