Monday, March 12, 2007



"Get Off Your Knees, Stop Clasping Your Hands, and Read Some Aristotle, Ya Knucklesuckers"

I am an English teacher, so I get to be crabby. That, along with wearing intimidating glasses, is part of my job.

What's more, it's not enough just to be crusty; fundamental to the profile of English Teacher is the need to wail like Ginsberg reading "The Howl," pull at our restrictive French knots, and gnash our coffee-stained teeth when anyone *dares* to violate any of a myriad of complex, even unintelligible, rules.

A misused apostrophe elicits from us a snorted "harrumph." My harrumphs have occasionally become so forceful that they have propelled my hand into my pocket, where a ballpoint pen awaits, ready to take corrective measures. Indeed, there is a small museum in Iowa that once drew my apostrophic ire when it had the gall to display a sign--to all the corn-fed public who could scrape together the $4.00 admission fee from that week's pig sales--reading, "This tractor was removed from operation after mangling it's owner's hand one sweltering July when he reached down for a sip of lemonade out of his Mason jar, slipped, and was ground under the wheels."

If you look closely enough at this sign, you will see that a ballpoint pen, wielded with rage, scratched out the offending apostrophe, leaving a more appropriate "its" in it's (er, its) wake.

So, yea, I can get pissy about apostrophes. (one caveat: I don't care what anyone does in casual writing; that's the domain of exploration, willful sloppiness, and sentence boundary romps...I'm just referring to formal, for-scrutiny language here)

Don't even get me started on comma splices, run-ons, and fragments: The Triad of Evil. If I had fewer students and didn't read several thousand papers each year, I'm sure I wouldn't be prostrate in my office three times a week, moaning as I lie under my rolling chair, "For the love of Strunk and White, use a friggin' verb. " My agony is so extensive that I once offered a student my father's watch fob if only, if oooonly, she would use a noun. Just once. Having recently pawned her pocket watch, her counter offer was to cut off all her hair and ask me if I could purchase her a new set of tortoise shell hair combs instead. With the ironic stakes thusly agreed upon, she did, in fact, use a noun in one of her papers.

It was "brick." How very disappointing. I was hoping for, at the least, "manta ray"...or maybe even "unicycle." Or how about "indigence"? Give me something here, my dear knothead.

And if you really want to see me get revved up, try misusing "less" and "fewer." Moreover, I've been known to pull out strands of hair over the confusion of nominative and objective forms of pronouns (he/him, she/her), especially when such confusion occurs at the end of a prepositional phrase, when the speaker or writer uses the nominative form in an effort to sound hyper-correct: "Just between you and I, the butler has been stealing the silver to finance his meth addiction." Pullease, Madame Voyeur, give me a "just between you and me" before I toss your wallet, and your diamond chip earrings, into the butler's homemade pipe.

Indeed, although my bathtub hasn't had a scouring in four months, I am a stickler when it comes to linguistic correctness.

So you can imagine my distress over the burgeoning "Beg the Question" misuse trend. Here's the deal: every time I attend some sort of professional training or pick up a magazine, I see this phrase used wrongly. The term "beg the question" refers to a logical fallacy--an error in creating an argument--wherein the arguer takes for granted the thing that he/she is attempting to prove. To wit: "Helen Mirren is clearly an attractive older woman because she's so striking." Um, yea. Got that. I saw her breasts at the Oscars. They still had attitude. Thus, if one "begs the question," one puts out a circular argument, neatly sidestepping any true reasoning.

However, nowadays, in this age of drive-thrus and Blockbuster and cell phone family plans, many of our finer principles have been bastardized, including, tragically, "begging the question." Several times each week, I hear or read this phrase being used in the sense of "raising the question." For example, "Since we have no more Little Debbies in the house, it begs the question of when we're going to go shopping."

Snarl. Don't. Even. Beg. Your. Damn. Question. That. Way. You. Poop. Chute.

My pathology runs so deep that last week I snapped at a student who, woe for him, raised his hand and uttered the words, "Beg your pardon, Jocelyn. I have a question."

I heard those words in close proximity to each other and went, not "postal," but "English Teacher" on him. It was bloody; it involved forty whacks; and when I regained my senses, I was holding a splintered ruler and an empty stapler.

------------------------------------------------

Anyone have fifty cents so I can call my husband and have him come bail me out of this holding cell? That tough guy in the corner didn't really cotton to me when I corrected the spelling of his "Bonz and Grillz" tattoo. In fact, he's got a shiv (ooh, vocabulary enrichment!) held to my jugular right now.

All the unsplit infinitives in the world can't save me now.

30 comments:

ldbug said...

Ohhhhh you're one of those peeps that corrects people when they don't speak properly.. that can be dangerous;-P

Hammer said...

I agree with you, and find myself proof reading my posts many times sometimes months later even though I normally go for a conversational tone.

oreneta said...

Ooooooo, you would have SO much fun over here where there is a major and glaring grammatical error in EVERY SINGLE SIGN posted for tourists everywhere. It is like the official English translator had a really good hate on for someone and was getting revenge. Some are so bad, that I have to resort to reading the Catalan to try to figure out what the heck they are talking about, and if you knew the state of my Catalan....

lime said...

oh, at your tale of the ballpoint pen and the extraneous apostrophe i was ready to stand on my desk chair, raise a defiant fist, and shout, 'sticklers unite!!!'

yes, in this informal setting my comments rarely contain capital letters, often have typos, and many times lack proper punctuation.

deep down, however, i am a grammar nerd. i may not be an english teacher but i do have a strong affection for the oxford comma and i have a near apopleptic response to people who can't properly use your and you're.

lime said...

p.s. i opted agasint standing on my desk chair only because i likely would have impaled myself on a letter opener or met some other similarly grisly fate.

Jocelyn said...

ldbug--I swear, I'm not as overbearing in real life as in blog life. I don't correct people to their faces...I only snarl about them later, in private. Very passive/aggressive of me.

Hammer--That must be why I like to read your blog, eh?

Oreneta--There can be something charming about foreign-country English, though, right...unless, of course, you're trying to teach correct English there (heehee). I love Japanese versions of English, for example.

Lime--I knew I smelled a kindred spirit there, in your juicy brain.

mist1 said...

My tattoo says the same thing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

You are too funny. AND you have mentioned several of my own pet peeves, ungrammatically speaking. For years, I have informally collected examples of quotation mark abuse. They abound. Perhaps I will string them together in a post one fine day, you lucky girl.

Good luck with the shiv (ooh.) I truly hope we don't lose you now.

Dorky Dad said...

That was grate post. Long too. Now I have fewer tea in my mug. And there are less hours in my evening left.

BUUHUHUHUAHAWHAWHAWHAWHAAAWWWW!!!

Jocelyn said...

Mist--Could you take the shiv away from my throat now, please?

Hearts--I would love to read that post. I would print out that post and roll around on it.

Dorky Dad--I know you're being all clever and such, but my blood pressure seriously popped up a few points when I read your comment...even though "fewer tea" made me laugh.

Lee said...

Between you and I, I must beg the question, did I just take some lesser shi't' for over-analyzing some nekked boy ads, brick?

;)

Glamourpuss said...

"I am an English teacher, so I get to be crabby. That, along with wearing intimidating glasses, is part of my job."

Yeah, I miss that part. I still wear the glasses but the opportunities for glaring disparagingly over them have waned.

And I with you on the grammar thing - even if I do consciously flout the rules in the blogosphere.

Puss

furiousBall said...

I'll bet my blog posts make you harrumph with a tenacity unforeseen by gerundkind. See I read the intro to this blog post "Get Off Your Knees, Stop Clasping Your Hands,..." and my first thought was, "oh sweet, a post about knee farts."

I do actually dress myself in the morning.

lushgurl said...

Oh Gawd...I so sorry Jocelyn, will do gooder in the future!!!
One of the things that really 'gets' me is when people say "IRREGARDLESS" It's not even a REAL word, LOL. Of course I AM ALWAYS grammatically correct ROFLAO!!!

Undercover Angel said...

I'm sure I'm guilty of gramatical errors on my blog, but in my defense when I used to write computer text books I had editors to look after all of that stuff.

I hate it when my oldest child uses the word "irregardless". It's so redundant and it drives me up the freak'n (hee hee) wall...

Diana said...

cmFor me, it's a case of 'if it bothers me, it's a heinous crime against the English language, if not, then don't get your panties in a knot'. If only the Universe cottoned to my way of seeing things, we'd be nothing but run-on sentences and no one would ever mix up 'fewer' and 'less' or 'it's' and 'its'.

May I say that I do look forward to being tutored by your writing in such things. I anticipate learning new gaffs for which I can growl under my breath, "Just learn English, idiot."

Mother of Invention said...

This is a fabulous post brilliantly written!! I'm coming here to brush up on Rules by observing how you write! I've taught Gr. 3 for so long that the way they creatively spell words, using their own phonetic rules, actually looks okay to me now!

I've seen the best in journal writing..."Its Trismas and I raped gifs las nite. Then we aet buggers for diner." The run-on sentences I have seen are probably still running!

My personal gripe is the use of, "the amount of people"!! Count each one of us please!

And then there's, "irregardless"!

I had some very cool English teachers...the babes wearing funky clunky rings, necklaces and bracelets. The men were sort of Hippie-like.

So was the pen you used on the sign RED?

Diesel said...

Other than in my philosophy classes, I have yet to hear anyone use the phrase "beg the question" correctly. I've given up on it.

I used to work for a company that had websites with areas that were accessible only to members. That is, they were "members' areas." Not "member's areas" or "members areas." You have no idea how many times I had that argument.

What can I say? Both of my parents were English professors.

Jill said...

Oooh, now I'm feeling extremely vulnerable and apprehensive. Without sentence fragments and run-on sentences, I wouldn't be able to write anything. Ever.

(ducking for cover)

That Chick Over There said...

Maybe don't read my post today. Okay?

Claire said...

Yikes, I agree with you but I'm afraid of you now. ;)

velvet girl said...

Oh, jocelyn, a woman after my own heart (though you would never know it from the hideous grammar on my blog).

For example, there's a warm spot in my heart for Whole Foods because it has a "fewer than 8 items" express check-out.

-velvet

Balou said...

This is great! I'm a perpetual proofreader but I can only skim the surface of your amazing grammatical skills. Excuse me, I think I see a dangling participle that needs tucking in.

CSL said...

I drive by a church sign every day that says "The Pentacotal's." And, sadly, I can't stop myself from saying, "The Pentacostal's what??" It's a sickness, really.

somewhere joe said...

I'm growing inordinately fond of elipses. I'm in my "dot dot dottage," as Van said to Ada.

Sometimes popular illogic can extend to whole phrases: "I could care less."

But the phrase that makes contempt and aggravation leak out of my ears is "movers and shakers", a triumph of popular idiocy over the original, and wonderfully cogent, "movers and shapers." Grrr...

Karen said...

Hi Jocelyn! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. Thought I'd stop by and return the favour...I'm so glad I did. I love your blog, you're hilarious but still manage to get your point across so succinctly. I'll definately be coming back! I would love to hear your thoughts after riding my bus in the morning and having to listen to conversations where "like" is, like, every, like, you know, second, like, word....

Jocelyn said...

Lee--Meebee just a leetle bit of crap. But, as I said, I realized I'm just like you and savored each of those photos.

Puss--There's got to be a way to work disparaging glasses' looks into your current line of work. Oh, and I don't care/mind/edit/rant when I read anyone's blog--this world is supposed to be a fun one.

Furiousball--And I'm vewy, vewy proud of you for getting yourself dressed each day. What a big boy!

Lushgurl--No, seriously, I don't care one whit in Blogland how much people attend to their grammar. It's all about fun. But that "irregardless" thing. No kidding. It's right up there with "disorientated" for me.

Undercover--The whole "irregardless" issue also brings up whether we're "thawing" or "unthawing" the meat for dinner.

Diana--I agree that the world should be run according to you, Queen of All Things.

Mother--Yes, the traditional "raping of the gifts." That was the one part of Christmas as a child that I always enjoyed.

Diesel--How did I know you'd had a slew of philosophy classes?

Jill--Stand up tall and never fear. Blogs are like personal emails: about the communication.

That Chick--I'm heading right over to read it now. Cover yourself.

Claire--Swear to the dictionary, I'm actually a pretty amiable person in everyday life. Be not afraid.

Velvet--Go, Whole Foods. For awhile Target actually had the old "10 items or fewer" as well, and I felt like the earth had spun off its axis. Whaaat? Target being more correct than every other store? Can it be? Then they changed their signage to the wrong way.

Balou--Oh, sweet dangling participle. Sleep well.

CSL--I believe it should read "...the Pentacostals' unremitting need to act superior to all the genuinely good people in the world."

Somewhere Joe--Now, see, I didn't know about this "movers and shapers" dealie. Another weapon for my holster!

Jocelyn said...

Karen--Big howdy! I keep thinking this Like Generation is going to struggle through every job interview they ever, like, attempt.

Dayngr said...

Now I'm afraid to invite you over to read my blog. (Cringe)

Dayngr said...

I forgot to add that it drives me crazy when people pronounce words incorrectly, like saying STUPID as STUP-ITTTT or ANYWAY as Anyways. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR