Saturday, June 16, 2012

When being a Grammar Nazi just isn’t good enough

I am a stickler for grammar.

I hate text abbreviations. I don’t like using numbers for words or in words (unless of course you’re referring to Deadmau5), and I try at all costs to avoid the dangling participle. I yell at people when they use incorrect grammar. I’m probably the first person to Tweet or Facebook you after you’ve made a spelling or other heinous crime against the English language in your status bar.

I have a degree in Grammar. Well, it’s in Linguistics. The study of language as a living entity. Grammar is almost the opposite. Grammar is finite. It is the alpha and omega. Linguistics challenges where the alpha begins and where the omega ends.  Back in second year university, my grammar professor had us purchase that most infamous of grammar bibles The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It is an excellent book, and if you choose to pursue any form of writing in English, creative or functional, it is the handiest tool for you.

I also read Stephen King’s marvelous On Writing. It’s a kick-you-in-the-ass book. And it gives you a wake up call about all of those lolly lolly lolly words that we tend to use in oral storytelling. In the written word, your text should be able to convey to your reader the momentousness of a situation without resorting to all of the lolly words.

I was pretty smug about my command of the English language. Sure, I can’t put a coherent story together without going off in various directions. However, I can make sure my incoherent story has the most impeccable grammar imaginable.

Or at least I thought I did.

Last night (figuratively speaking – as of the day of writing, I read this essay three nights ago and have read nothing else since) I came across this essay.

To quote Stuart Neville, one of my favourite current writers, Ah, copy edits, the stage of the writing process that reminds me I'm a moron.

There are elements of style in correct grammar, and elements of grammar in correct style. I think my overuse of the word “as” stems from my love of British culture and British style. As just sounds more refined, more direct, more like you know what you’re talking about. It’s fancier than ‘while’ or ‘so’ or ‘and’. That still doesn't make it any more correct or coherent...

I know I’m an as addict, in the very very bad way pointed out in that essay. Not in the comparative way in which as was meant to be used. Such as (!) ‘this pate is as rich as Oprah’. 

So I have received another wake-up call to remind me that, no matter what I accomplish, I am still a moron at some level.

Since then, I have been making a very concerted and often quite difficult effort to avoid using the a-word. (I wouldn’t even write ‘as much as possible’ there for fear that I have already overused ‘as’ in this blog of mine.) I find it binding and restrictive.

As I see it (!!) there are two approaches I can take:

1.      I can stick an iron rod into my brain to forget everything I know about grammar and style and churn out mom porn a la EL James, and hope nobody notices how poor my writing skills are; or

2.   I can allow myself (meaning I can stop judging myself for five minutes) to write very poor first drafts in order to get my story on the page, and from there, red pen like I’ve never red penned before, or even better, give it to someone who doesn’t even know what the word ‘as’ means, and have them circle the word every time I use it. And then rewrite that entire paragraph where the offending word has been discovered, thus eliminating my overuse of the word while still being comfortable enough to express my thoughts.

Being a bad writer comes easily to me…if it's easy, it isn't worth having, is it? Even if it sells 10 million copies...

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