1 September 2020 Susannah

Are you a Grammar Nazi?

Are you a Grammar Nazi?

Are you a Grammar Nazi? Do you stress over misplaced apostrophes? If so, you might enjoy this little piece which recently appeared on Facebook (posted by Ted Tarkow). I thought it was very clever and felt comforted to know that there are other grammar pedants out there too:

    • An Oxford comma walks into a bar where it spends the evening watching the television getting drunk and smoking cigars.
    • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
    • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
    • An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.
    • Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”
    • A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.
    • Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.
    • A question mark walks into a bar?
    • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.
    • Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”
    • A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.
    • A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.
    • Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.
    • A synonym strolls into a tavern.
    • At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.
    • A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.
    • Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.
    • A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.
    • An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.
    • The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.
    • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
    • The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.
    • A dyslexic walks into a bra.
  • A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
  • A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.
  • A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.
  • A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.

And on the subject of grammar, I am wondering how long the full stop will continue to be around. According to a recent article, young people avoid full stops in text messages, interpreting them as a sign of anger or irritation. Full stops can evidently even make a text message seem insincere. The full stop is also seen as redundant – after all, if you have pressed ‘Send’ then your message is clearly complete, so why add a full stop? My mind boggles at the very idea of attempting to read Moby Dick minus all its full stops, but then, hey, I’m middle-aged, so what do I know?

What do you think about grammar? Its use is often a contentious issue. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Ernie the Emu image by Richard Dudley, https://www.freeimages.com/photo/earnie-the-emu-1364511
Body image credit- The Booksellers, 2019 Blackletter Films production, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9355194/

Comments (47)

  1. Penelope Morris

    I work with young people (doctors) who do not use full stops when writing medical notes on a computer. This works when the notes appear as a bullet point list but unfortunately, the final document makes the lines join together so it can be quite unintelligible. Most of them don’t even put verbs in so it is even more confusing to those trying to understand a patient’s journey. I have to acknowledge however that my mother was an English teacher and definitely believed in punctuation.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The full stop is a wonderfully useful device and it will be awful if it disappears in common use. As you say, you can get away with it in bullet points, but not in sentences.

  2. Susan King

    Enjoyed reading the comments.
    Would like to add another frustration.
    Use of “got” when there are more appropriate words.
    As a Primary School teacher I often consulted a handy little book.
    “Life’s Little Guide to Basic Grammar” by William Mercer.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That does sound like a helpful book. Many of us missed having proper grammar lessons at school (it went out of fashion in the 60s and 70s), so sometimes a handy reference guide is needed.

  3. Susannah Fullerton

    I have heard of that book by Mary Norris – it sounds excellent, so I will look for a copy.
    Yes, many who were taught no grammar at all just have no idea why some of us complain.

  4. Angela Rodd

    I’m coming across things like this more frequently: I listened while the girl sung the song; yesterday the bell rung loudly; during last week’s tornado, the ship sunk.

    Why is this happening? It sounds so jarring (I think so anyway!) that I’m amazed people don’t realise it’s wrong. I recently corresponded with a local journalist who had made a similar error in a published article. He defended himself but I don’t think he actually understood my point. Obviously he was a member of the generation which was never taught any English grammar.

    May I recommend a wonderfully entertaining book about grammar and punctuation by Mary Norris, who was for many years a copy editor at the New Yorker magazine? It’s called “Between You and Me: confessions of a comma queen.” (Now where should that full stop go? Before or after the quotation marks?)

  5. John

    Don’t approve of your use of the term “Nazi” as if it’s a desirable trait. My recollection is that the Nazis were anything but desirable.

    My pet hate is the overuse of the word “amount” by journalists, reporters and other media personnel, when more descriptors such as area, volume, population, level, number, quantity, etc would be more appropriate, according to context.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, good point about the use of Nazi.
      And I agree that the word ‘amount’ is often misused.

  6. Pam Allen

    I’m a grammar pedant but I have amazed myself by thoroughly enjoying Bernadine Evaristo’s marvellous novel Girl, Woman, Other, in which the author dispenses with most punctuation and capital letters.

  7. Mr D T MacGowan

    “less” and “few”.
    Beginning a sentence with “so”.
    “It begs the question” used indescriminantly and missing the meaning.

  8. Maria: To qualify as a real grammar Nazi, you need to learn the difference between “it’s” and “its”.

    Jenny: A comma before “etc.” after a series, please.

    And finally, Ted Tarkow’s misplaced modifier is missing a “by” (“owned by a man…).

    As must be obvious, I too am an irritating pedant – but instead of bragging about any mastery of grammar or punctuation, I always recall the parable about motes and beams!

  9. Gwynn

    I may be old fashioned, but here are my two pet hates:
    1. Intransitive enjoyment (often used by waiters sporting ponytails)
    2. The almost complete disappearance of the adverb, except for “Absolutely” used as a synonym for “Yes”.

  10. Paddy

    I imagine one reason that the young avoid full stops is that they involve more than one click.

  11. Jenny Summerson

    I grew up proof reading documents with my father who was a Commercial Printer so I read everything word by word – can’t speed read. I get so frustrated when I find errors of any kind – spelling, punctuation, sentence construction etc.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Proof reading is fascinating, because we all spot different things. Publications of the Jane Austen Society go to about 5 different proof readers and I sometimes feel mortified that others have found errors I have completely missed. I think the work you did with your father must have given you excellent training.

  12. It seems that football commentators are the worst offenders. They don’t seem to understand the difference between an adverb and an adjective nor do they know when to user fewer and when to use less.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Sports commentators generally are poor when it comes to grammar, I find. They need people like us to sort them out!

  13. Margi Abraham

    I only was taught the very basics of grammar in primary school and not much more in high school In the 1970s in Sydney. Oxford commas, gerunds and intransitive verbs mean nothing to me. I must have learned grammar by osmosis from wide reading, as well as my mother correcting my speech and the letters I wrote to my grandparents and cousins. Constant reading of Jane Austen’s novels in my teens also helped!
    I am completely bewildered by the addition of unnecessary apostrophes when the full stop is being omitted!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Jane Austen helps with everything, I always find! Yes, I share your bewilderment over the mis-use of the apostrophe.
      I also did much of my schooling in the 1970s and teaching grammar was definitely going out of fashion in NZ at that time. My husband got far better grammar training than I did.
      Have you had a chance to watch my JASA talk about the amazing Dorothy Darnell who saved Chawton cottage? Do hope you enjoy it.

  14. I am a grammar nazi. Apostrophes are my top hate, followed by sentences which have 3 subjects and 5 predicates. People also seem to place full stops and semi-colons at random. One pet hate seen yesterday: ‘I could of told you that’.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Ouch, yes, I too cringe over ‘I could of told you’. All too commonly said.

  15. Melody

    That first example of the Oxford comma is incorrect. It’s just a sentence that needs a regular comma.

    An Oxford comma is one that precedes “and”, as in: “An Oxford comma walks into a bar and meets his parents, Hitler and Mussolini.” The Oxford comma would go after “Hitler”, thus enabling you to read the sentence as a list and not with the implication that Hitler and Mussolini were his parents.

    Sorry to be pedantic.

  16. Rose Glassberg

    Personally(and I speak knowingly as one such), I’m all for it. I mean, what? the hell?

    Everlsstingly an aggregate for swell English.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Am not quite clear – are you for change and flexibility in grammar, or tradition?

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I think we are all happy grammar nerds together. So glad you enjoy my newsletter.

  17. Maria Zannetides

    Though born in Sydney, I spoke Greek until I started Kindergarten and learned English very quickly. My gorgeous Year 7 English teacher taught me grammar in the most wonderful way and I came to value it’s importance in clear communication and wonderful writing. Yes, I’m a grammar pedant too. But all language changes and I understand that grammar and spelling have and will continue to evolve. One of the comforts of being of a certain age is that I may not be around if / when we lose the apostrophe completely 😉

  18. Ruth

    The absence of a final full stop in texts does seem to be age-related. I have checked within my family and find those over about 35 include it, whereas those with less experience of life do not. Much misunderstanding may arise from leaving out full stops within texts, but despite that, a new line appears to be all younger texters require. I’ll keep using punctuation, as a fully-fledged dinosaur.

    • Helen Poisson

      It’s a helpful list, except for the inclusion of “A dyslexic walked into a bra.” “A dyslexic” isn’t a figure of style or a point of grammar.
      “Bra” instead of “bar” in this context is simply a malapropism.

  19. Susan King

    So many politicians and journalists misuse “is “ and “are” .
    Do they not know singular from plural?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also find that they don’t realise that there is a plural of ‘woman’ and many talk about two woman instead of women.

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