Tags: grammar

*gen - tiffany


My tirades against comma splices are becoming a broken record. One of the first things we learn about sentence structure is that two independent clauses should be joined by a comma+conjunction or a semicolon. A comma splice is when the two parts are joined with only a comma. (Ex: I bought a new hat, it looks silly on me. Sorry, grammar pedantry is my career!) Those errors drive me crazy because they're such a fundamental part of sentence construction; however, they've become nearly ubiquitous online. I can't quite fathom why. Inserting a conjunction is such a simple thing to do! I understand why many people are intimidated by semicolons, yet a comma splice could easily be fixed by a semicolon instead.

I'm beginning to wonder if I just need to get over it. ;) Although I'm a grammar prescriptivist, I'm forcing myself to accept that language does change over time. It seems like half the posts I read on blogs and message boards contain comma splices. I just finished a high-profile novel from a large publishing house with dozens of professional editors, yet it was riddled with spliced sentences. The New York Times is generally considered a bastion of proper usage; if I regularly see incorrectly-formatted sentences in their articles, should I just accept that they've become mainstream or even "correct"? The alternate answer is much more frustrating to me as an English teacher: a growing majority of well-educated, erudite people simply don't care about grammar anymore. I'm the odd one out.

Maybe I shouldn't care so much. The world is certainly full of far more serious problems! Letting go of hard-set rules is difficult, but times change. I'm just wondering whether it is indeed a case of usage changing over time, or if people are so eager to get their thoughts out there that grammar has become trivial.
*gen - tiffany

Whither grammar?

As I've mentioned far too many times, I'm an English teacher. I love grammar and enjoy teaching it, despite how frustrating that can be. Lately, though, I've begun to wonder about the future of my profession. Grammar is seen as a fundamental skill, so the teaching of it certainly won't be going away anytime soon! However, it seems to matter less and less in our society.

I should qualify that I'm not referring to "netspeak". Obviously, people use that for a variety of reasons, but -- for the most part -- it's not employed seriously in a professional/formal context. My concern is the erosion of basic grammar rules. Wherever I go online, I see simple mistakes, such as misplaced modifiers and comma splices. (The latter drives me crazy because it's such a fundamental part of sentence construction!) Many people claim that they don't pay attention to grammar online because they don't perceive it as a priority, which I certainly understand. I often make mistakes because I write in a conversational style. However, I've noticed it more and more often from those who are writing in a professional context, like articles in major newspapers. I've read quite a few excellent arguments that language is constantly evolving, and what was once considered paramount is no longer important. I'm a hardcore grammar fundamentalist, but I'm trying to relax and accept that the rules are indeed changing!

On the other hand, whenever someone uses abysmal grammar online or in the media, many people complain, "What are they teaching in schools these days?" Teaching sentence construction is (rightly) seen as my responsibility, and those errors are perceived as failures by English teachers like me. I'll certainly take my share, but we teachers are trying our best! Yet this reaction also seems a bit hypocritical, given how proper grammar rules have become less and less important in society. If many people feel no obligation to follow the rules, then should we continue teaching them? At which point does the evolution of language supercede the need to master the fundamentals? Should I stop teaching how to use conjunctions if comma splices now rule the day? :)
*gen - tiffany

A very long catch-up post.

1. Much to my chagrin, I am watching Fox in hopes that they'll show a Dollhouse promo. A friend found this one the other night, but the quality is so low that you can barely see Jamie.

2. Just me, or is vanity sizing getting even crazier? I ordered some shirts in my usual size from Old Navy's womens plus department last week, and they're way too big for me. However, I'm pretty sure I haven't lost any weight -- at least, I haven't noticed any difference in the mirror. (I should use a scale, but they're scary!) Then again, I also noticed that some of my pants are looser around the waistline, so maybe I am getting a teensy bit thinner. Sure doesn't look like it, though!

3. Hey, teachers? I have a great tip to pass along: beach ball. I've been using one in my classes, and it's working out beautifully! Whenever I'm asking the students questions, I toss the ball to the first kid who raises her hand, and she answers. Then she tosses the ball to someone else for the next question, similar to the "popcorn" strategy. This is great because A) the students choose who speaks, thus avoiding the "you never call on me!" issue, and B) the kids really get excited, and many who wouldn't normally participate are waving their hands in the air. In fact, when the principal did a drop-in observation last week, she said the kids got a little TOO hyper. ;) But it's all about Active Learning these days, right?

3a. My students watched Obama's speech today and cheered at the end, though maybe that was due to the socialist brainwashing. Then again, we're a very pro-Obama school, so indoctrination was lost on them. *g*

4. Interesting New Yorker blog post about how spell-check has "ruined" grammar. I was particularly intrigued by the list of the twenty most common errors in college student papers. I cringed (and laughed) at how many of them are related to the poor comma.

5. I was quite pleased to hear a new episode of This American Life, after far too many weeks of reruns. Speaking... are any of you using the new NPR app for iPhone? Though the online streaming can be spotty, I like it in theory, as it lets me make my own playlist. On the other hand, the playlist feature can be very clunky and keeps crashing.

6. Since I'm a television junkie, I'm jumping on the bandwagon and Collapse )
*gen - tiffany

My love of parentheses.

1. Well, those allergies turned out to be a bonafide cold or virus or whatever. (I can never tell them apart.) I've been sick all weekend. Congestion, skin sensitivity, headaches, a bit of a fever, and total fatigue. I did buy a neti pot; while it helped a little, it wasn't as effective as I'd hoped. I seem to be over the worst of it now, but I have no energy whatsoever. Even simply folding laundry earlier made me want to collapse. Tomorrow should be fun.

2. In addition to my futile battle against the comma splice, I now have another grammar peeve: the lack of commas in parenthetic expressions. I've been seeing these all over the place in the past month. Here's an example from the new issue of Time Magazine, with the names changed: "Mary Smith, a physician's assistant examines Dan Jones in a swine flu triage tent." The writer should've included another comma after "assistant", to set off the phrase as a descriptor. (I might be using the wrong terms here; I know what's right, even if I don't know the specific terminology.) Perhaps I'm too hardcore about grammar. Many errors don't bother me, promise! I've finally made my peace with the obsolescence of the Oxford comma. ;) But comma splices and parenthetical expressions are just so fundamental to sentence structure that I can't quite fathom why they've suddenly become "optional".

(Note to self: RELAX.)

3. This afternoon I watched Last Chance Harvey on DVD. Cute movie, albeit rather forgettable. It reminded me of how I fangirled Emma Thompson way back in the Ken-and-Em days of the early nineties. I was a naive college freshman at the time, and I wrote her a long, gushing fan letter that is rather embarrassing in retrospect even if I don't remember what I said. A month later, I opened my mailbox and found a hand-written note from her. I remember my hands trembling for the first time in my life as I clutched the unopened envelope. It was a very sweet thank-you for the lovely letter, with a note that I might enjoy her upcoming movie, Much Ado about Nothing. I wish I still had it. And since I was really naive, I wrote her back! Yup, another long missive as if we were bestest friends now. She never replied, not that I blame her one bit. ;) Still, it's a fun memory to have!
*gen - tiffany

Conjunctions are our friends, please use them.

Any suggestions for how to GET OVER something that drives you absolutely crazy? My hatred of comma splices is getting out of control. I've been seeing them nearly everywhere, and each time I'm filled with enough aggravation to make me want to scream. Good lord, people! How hard is it to stick a coordinating conjunction* between two clauses? This mistake has become so prevalent that I wonder if splices have become an accepted part of our evolving language. Either way, I need to find a good way to let go of the aggravation before it wrecks my blood pressure. So, how can I stop myself from getting so worked up next time someone ignores a very basic rule of sentence construction?

* Last week, a student told me about a fabulous mnemonic that he'd learned at his elementary school: FANBOYS. (For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.)

In happier news, this weekend the Stitches South Knitting Expo just happens to be taking place five minutes from my home. Yay! Collapse )

And here's a wrap-up linkspam:
-- Jez asks Which romantic comedy cliche are you? and are your internet relationships helping or hurting your social life? (I say "no", though I suppose they also encourage me to be antisocial. ;)
-- Newsweek uses the new Star Trek movie as an example of how geeks have inherited the Earth.
-- The NYT claims that the Kindle is frustrating bookcover snobs. I also kinda love this article on Twitter recipes.
-- In honor of the first part of my post, check out Mental Floss's quiz about obscure punctuation marks. Or you can find out which font you are.
-- From Slate: Supermarket cashiers keep asking me to donate $1 to charity. Should I feel bad for saying no?
-- McSweeney's offers a syllabus for Writing in the Internet Age.
-- Consumerist has a helpful guide to identifying an ATM card skimmer.
-- Poniewozik talks about saving TV shows on the bubble and the fan movement to eat at Subway on Monday to help save Chuck.
-- Very cool: an animated short story by Neil Gaiman.
-- And two fun videos for Saturday night: real-life Pac Man and the Muppets meet Ocean's 11.
*gen - tiffany

NYTimes befriends the splice? Horrors!

Even the Old Gray Lady isn't immune to the evils of the comma splice. I found this caption in a fashion slideshow on nytimes.com: "A Diane Von Furstenberg dress cost $190 in 1998, it cost $325 in 2008." Oh, Times, you're killing me! Would it really have been so difficult to add a semicolon or conjunction? GAH! (Er, sorry for the melodrama. Now that I've been forced to accept sentence-ending prepositions, the comma splice has risen to the top of my list of grammar peeves.)

Anyway. This post is just an excuse for me to clean out my bookmarks.

-- The LA Times attempts to investigate what the hell is going on with the Life on Mars remake.
-- PopWatch has a great post asking why the media assumes men won't want to see the Sex and the City movie. They also ask for your dream Emmy nominees. (The replies to these posts often make me roll my eyes.)
-- Slate has video of a couple who tried to spend a day no more than 15 feet apart.
-- In honor of the Spelling Bee, Mental Floss offers a spelling quiz.
-- Newsweek interviews David Sedaris.
-- Real Simple lists the best microwave meals. Then I found this REALLY COOL website that evaluates microwave foods for taste and nutrition.
-- Dan Fienberg shares his script for Gilligan's Island meets Lost.
-- Check out the finalists for Project Redlight, which searches for the worst (and most hilarious) movie pitches.
-- Creepy Gnome Terrorizes Town! The video's a bit disappointing, but that pic made me giggle like a fiend.
-- The NYT profiles a charity movement to give mosquito nets to African children. I was skeptical about the efficacy until I read this.
-- And in honor of last night's nipple picspam, I'll link to this Broadsheet post about the need for well-fitting brassieres. ;)
*gen - tiffany

Please and thank you, as well.

I'm finally back home! Last night I drafted a post full of whining about travel and other annoyances. When I looked at it tonight, I realized that none of it really matters. Some terrible stuff has happened in the past week, but also many good things. I'd rather focus on that, such as how my 9.5 month old nephew started walking yesterday, and on Wednesday he said "Mama" three times. Yay! He's such a prodigy. And now I have another week off school, which is definitely a good thing. I plan to take full advantage of the chance to be a complete slacker.

Lately I've noticed the rise of "as well" -- i.e. "I'm going as well" instead of "I'm going too." Yeah, people have been saying it all along, but now that this has caught my attention, I keep hearing it everywhere. It's better grammar and sounds nicer, yet I just can't get used to it.

I'm also wondering whatever happened to basic manners. Not just generally inconsiderate behavior, but simple things like saying "please" and "thank you". I seldom hear them anymore, especially while shopping or at restaurants. Pleasantries are not necessary, of course, but they're just, well, pleasant.

Anyway! Here are a bunch of links:

-- MSNBC lists the happiest stories of 2007.
-- The NY Times has a neat story about a teen filmmaker.
-- Probably late to the game here, but I stumbled upon WorldCat, which lets you search libraries near you.
-- NPR has a bittersweet story about a couple with HIV.
-- And via missmurchison: Going to the MLA conference? Up for some kinky action involving Alexander Pope and light bondage? (This might be a hoax, especially given the typo in the third-to-last sentence. But it's still hilarious.)
*gen - tiffany

Go unions! Yay unions!

On the way home from work today, I caught up on some Grammar Girl Podcasts. These things are great! Each week she tackles a different grammar issue and explains it with entertaining and accessible tips. If you can't listen to the podcasts, she also provides transcripts on the website. The one that had me cheering was "Ending a Sentence with a Preposition". This is my biggest grammar peeve! Collapse )

I've been following the news of the WGA strike. Deadline Hollywood Daily is an excellent starting point, though it can get a bit dense for those of us outside the biz. I love the photo of the trombonist. ;) They also have an essay by Shawn Ryan on why he and other showrunners support the WGA. As expected, EW is also blogging it. Pop Candy has a good links list. Sepinwall asks, "How does this affect me the viewer, dammit?"

In fandom news... greycoupon gave a heads-up that RDM did a Q&A last night on the Skiffy boards. Among other things, he finally shared the script of that mysterious scene between Kara and Tigh in "Unfinished Business", explaining just how they became friends. Here's his post. Some very minor spoilers there, mostly along the lines of "You'll see more of [character/theme/plotline] in season four." Since I'm lazy and don't really like message boards, I'm pasting it here for my own convenience. Collapse )
*gen - tiffany

I was livin' in a devil town.

1. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts for the flight home last night, and the best was definitely Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (and their main site also looks to have some other great themed podcasts.) Each one is a 4-8 minute lesson on a grammar topic; I listened to tutorials on ellipses, who/whom, semicolons, however, and serial commas. The latter was especially fun -- I can't break the habit of using that final comma before "and", and I'm very pleased to learn that I'm well within rights to use it. ;)

2. Mo Ryan has lots of spoilers for Friday Night Lights. I'm also quite pleased that Katims, Britton, and Chandler all consider Coach and Mrs. Coach's marriage to be "unbreakable". Yay for the OTP! Speaking... I will cheerfully admit that while I was in Dallas, I had occasion to drive past Texas Stadium several times, and I geeked-out by playing "Your Hand in Mine" on the car stereo, just like that gorgeous scene in the season finale. Hee!

3. She also has a writeup about Bionic Woman at the upfronts. Some funny quotes from Eick about Katee, though I don't buy his soundbite about Isaiah Washington (ugh). Was pleasantly surprised to hear that Darin Morgan will write episode 9. Wow! Blast from the past, that.

4. McSweeney's has a letter to Optimus Prime from his GEICO Auto Insurance agent. I also liked My DVD player's user's manual (as written by Chuck Palahniuk).

5. Mental Floss has a quiz about controversial subject matter in Disney films. Have I mentioned lately how much I *love* Mental Floss? Everyone should get a subscription. Sounds pricey, but it's SO worth the cost.

6. Emmy nominations tomorrow! I'm so excited... even though I know none of my faves will be named. They never are. I'm dreading all the inevitable blog talkbacks with "Why wasn't [my favorite actor from a mediocre show] nominated?!?" Let's be realistic, folks. So, how about another poll? Gold Derby has leaked the ten finalists in most categories, so I'm starting things off with those names. For the other categories, I went with this list of the experts' predictions. If any of y'all gets them 100% correct, I'll make you a picspam or write you a drabble or something. ;)

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