Grammar nerds unite!

In a book review on, Laura Miller dips a toe in the prescriptive vs. descriptive linguistic debate, one in which some of us (no names) stomp around furiously when people use the phrase “where are you at?” and others (no names, but doubtless their mailboxes have unnecessary apostrophes scratched out) notice that everyone understands what it means, whether or not it is technically correct grammar.

Now, I heart Miller because she hearts David Foster Wallace, and that’s all I really need to know about a person. I believe, however, that she’s a bit too lenient with the descriptivists. She mentions her own pet peeve of dangling participles. Otherwise, she’s pretty laid back about the whole fall of civilization as we know it, at the hands of the business jargon creators, the advertising grammar bastardizers, and the genuinely lazy. (Please. I taught college English. I know some of it is laziness and “I have better things to do” -ism and “why bother” defeatism. But that most of it is really bad education in the early years wherein something like 50% of students are getting As.)

Ladies and gentlemen, would it kill us all to learn the proper use of “whom?”

I would like to announce, in light of this discussion, the production of my new album, Grammatically Corrected Songs. The playlist of final tracks:
I Can’t Get Any Satisfaction
Lie, Lady. Lie.
I Have Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle
You Are Nothing but a Hound Dog
Lie Down, Sally
Isn’t It Coincidental (and Generally Annoying but Not Ironic)?
and a medley of every song that should have “I Want You So Badly” rather than “so bad” but barring those that actually mean “I want you when you are bad,” regardless of their connotation for bad.

Send additional track suggestions to my producer. I’ll get to work on them when my band reconvenes next month.

16 thoughts on “Grammar nerds unite!

  1. *raises hand*

    Hi, I’m Dan, and I am a hopeless grammar and usage snob. I tell people I am “well” when asked, and (thanks, DFW) conspicuously describe the state of being queasy as “nauseated.” I have repeated sentences when I have, ex post facto, noted a grammatical error I have made the first time around.

    I was also picked last for essentially every gym class of my entire life. This is, perhaps, not as irrelevant as it may appear.

    As you have already corrected the Alanis Morissette hit that gave my agita every time it played on the radio, I don’t know if I have anything to add to your track list. But I will ponder, pausing every so often to gnash my teeth at the phrase “I could care less.”

  2. Raising fist and howling YEAH that other people understand that it is “nauseated,” Motherfuckers!!!!!

    And I make mistakes at times, but I cannot forgive The Goo Goo Dolls for their song, “Name.”

    “And I won’t tell no one your name….”

    Come on, dillweed! (Thanks, Nap, for my new fave expletive.)

  3. Oy, vey. “Gave ME agita.” See what I mean?

    I did think of one incredibly nerdish musical tick I have. On the title track to Fiona Apple’s CD “Extraordinary Machine” (which is a fantastic album that everyone should go out and buy right now), she repeatedly sings a line that starts “If there was a better way,” and when I sing along I always say “were.”

  4. One of the most grating lyrics I’ve ever heard is courtesy of I believe Shawn Colvin from the late ’90s; in order to rhyme with (I think) “eye,” she says “say a little prayer for I.” I’m pretty forgiving of the who/whom case error, but for Chrissake, don’t switch “me” and “I.”

  5. Dan, you’re my kind of guy. But I knew that. I’m really with you on “if there were a better way.” But I’ll pretend I couldn’t care less as I go get that album.
    Oh, Kitch, I forgot that one. Damn you, Dave, you dillweed!
    (is it wrong, I also really loathe the American vocalist laziness of “wan chew” and “knee jew” instead of “want you” and “need you”? Articulate, people.)
    Amen, Daryl. Peanut watches a video on movie day that says “you and me solve a mystery” and we both shriek at the screen, “you and I solve a mystery because I solve a mystery not me solve a mystery!”

  6. Now that is an amazing post. Had never really thought about all of those song titles. *Hilarious.*

    Re: “nauseated,” which I had plenty of cause to discuss during both pregnancies, I explained the difference to my family members, who ignored my lesson and continued calling me “nauseous.” Thanks, guys.

    • Ah, poor Shawn Colvin. We should have known.
      I still hedge on good vs. well: if they say “how are you” I say good in case they mean “in bed.” For “how are you doing” I always use well.
      Ink, I never thought of someone describing you as nauseous during those awful months. I really laugh when people say “I have the flu and feel nauseous.” Because they’re right. They are nauseating.
      Kate, you should hear me at the playground overemphasizing “hold on tightly” and “drive slowly.”

  7. I, too, get all atwitter about grammar mistakes. Grammar is not rocket science, and so many mistakes are just laziness. Using “I” instead of “me” is the one that drives me the most insane. However, for some reason, whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing and I reply, “I’m good, how are you?” and they respond haughtily, “I am WELL, thank you,” I have to bite my tongue. It sounds so pompous. If I had wanted to say “well” I would have said “I’m doing well, thanks.” I don’t see anything wrong with saying I’m good. Because I am!

  8. Oh, good example, Nap. Except that now I have “Hold On Loosely” zinging around my brain. And no one needs 38 Special at full-blast without at least a few beers in them. Sigh.

  9. I’ve been teaching the boys the Ghostbuster’s theme song because Evan now owns a Ghostbuster shirt. Then we get to the part “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” and I’m stuck because usually I change lyrics to the correct way, and I just can’t get the beat. It’s embarressing. But at least Sean says “I’m afraid no ghosts.” So maybe I’m doing my job.
    I totally agree that these grammar mistakes are not corrected at the early levels.

  10. Ack, what about Junie B. Jones? Have you guys read those books to your kids? I think they’re hilarious, but they’re so full of things I don’t want to teach my daughter. I leave some of them in because they contribute in a big way to Junie’s personality, but some things I just have to edit as I go.

    • We’re not into the Junie books yet, Daryl, though most of my readers have kids older than mine, so I’ll let them speak. I fell that way about Amelia Bedelia, though. I edit just about everything I read Peanut, ESPECIALLY the books that refer to So-and-So and Mrs. So-and-So. I always give her a name of her own (heaven forbid) and a really cool job.
      Kitch, I’m so sorry about your normally awesome mom. Children who are fed well and exercise and have a healthy sense of their own hunger and definitions of what healthful foods are go through all sorts of stages. Betty Draper and her ilk are creepy about girls needing to look a certain way, and the media is justifiably outraged at some obese children. But there is a range of normal, especially for our almost too skinny kids where they need to fill out in order to get taller and stronger. Aaargh.

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