The Grammar Rent-A-Cops

>> Monday, November 23, 2009

Some days you get deep concentration from me on trivial subjects like shower curtains, fire, and bedsheets. Other days you just get randomness. Today, you drew the randomness card.

I've been waiting for inspiration to hit, so I can beguile you all with my tremendous wit and cleverness ... but I've got nothing.

Except, of course, the annoying grammar of that previous sentence. If you don't recognize what is bothersome with it, maybe you are from Pennsylvania where the license plates use to say -- for about 20 years -- "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania." Or, perhaps, AOL's "You've got mail" has corrupted you? I can hear some of your thoughts now. "What's wrong with that? My Microsoft grammar checker says it is just fine." If these are your thoughts, then I have a few questions for you. What is wrong with have? Why mess with a word that works just fine? Do you have something, or do you "have got" something?

Nonetheless, disembodied thoughts that I am eavesdropping on, you are right and I am "wrong" (so to speak). Technically, there is nothing incorrect about saying, "have got". To show that I am fair, you may check this link for confirmation (or Google it yourselves, 'cause that works too). You may have also noticed that I named the post "The Grammar Rent-A-Cops" because the actual grammar police were too busy shushing people who were yelling about their mute points to deal with my mere "annoyance".

I know, I know, what's the point in making distinctions in grammar that no one else makes? Why would I bother? Then again, I had an English teacher in high school in Pennsyvlania who invented her own grammar rules. True story. She invented a grammar concept called "technical passive voice." She wanted us to get rid of it in our writing. The problem was, there is no such thing as technical passive voice, and the sentences weren't just passive, they were wrong. Honestly, I was in college before anyone straightened me out. Here is an example. "The lawn needs mowed."

I'm not joking! This crazy woman actually told us that this was poor writing but good grammar because we were supposed to "pretend" the words "to be" were in front of the word "mowed" even though said words were nowhere to be seen.

This woman messed me up for years.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, considering that when I lived there, the farmers down the street still sometimes talked about wanting to "outen the lights" and occasionally decided to "throw the cow over the fence some hay" and we didn't think anything of it. My grandmother hung a sign in her kitchen that said, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get," and while I knew these words were made up/bad grammar, I still knew some people who said them like they were real/correct. (For any grammar cops keeping track, that last sentence is so odd because I was trying to write it without (1) using a "this" without putting a noun after it, or (2) ending a phrase with a preposition. This creation was the best I could do.) Similarly, many of the adults I met would say such enlightened things as, "Yous guys, come here!"

So, with all of this colloquialisms surrounding us, why am I still surprised?

Well, she was an English teacher, for one thing. One would hope she knew the rules of grammar and didn't feel compelled to invent any for her own personal use. I know if she were in my kitchen right now, she would be lambasting the torture that Twitter has wreaked upon the English language, and she would be lamenting the damage that text messaging has done to our collective ability to spell or to use full words instead of abbreviations.

And yet ... "the lawn needs mowed." The woman who would not tolerate, "Won't you come with," (a very common Dutchy-ism), would let us say, "My car needs washed." Our only saving grace was that we could say it ... we just couldn't write it, because she would allow no passive voice in her homework papers, and this bad grammar, my dear readers, was "technical passive voice." (I had to rewrite that sentence twice to get the passive voice out of it!)

Hmmm. Looks like I found something to write about after all. I wonder if my old English teacher will ever see this? If so, I guess I should admit to her (and you) that my typing stinks and I tend to gloss over my own spelling errors. Call me out on them if you'd like. That's okay with me.


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