Monday, October 5, 2009

Grammar Watch

The first time I said a "dirty" word my mother acted like I’d said, “So I did a little coke today.” Yet she would have sooner dropped me off at Crack House Day Care than tolerated the linguistic sin she found even worse than swearing: Bad grammar.


I learned early that merely spelling out “he don’t” with alphabet blocks would prompt my mother taking me to the emergency room to be checked for brain tumors. I’m really surprised she never started her own church, such as the Holy Conjunction of Our Lady of Preposition Placement. To borrow Winston Churchill’s phrasing, grammar violations were something up with which she would not put.


Thus was I trained to recoil at utterances like “yous are nice,” “I ain’t ready,” and “where’s he at?” I also wince at “he hurt hisself,” “she brang it,” and “Bob don’t got none,” since that means Bob does indeed have some. (I love the joke about the teacher who says, “While a double negative conveys the positive, a double positive never conveys the negative." A student replies, “Yeah, right.”)


Other teenaged girls dated boys with the best cars. I dated the ones with the best sentence structure. My mission has always been (and I split that infinitive in the name of standard usage) to ignore virtues like integrity and altruism and judge people on their syntax.


I don't need Shakespearean flourishes, just correct conjugation. What if the old bard had written “the lady do protest too much”? Methinks Bill would have been demoted from playwright for kings’ men to pooper-scooper for kings’ horses.


So, to cleanse people’s speech, and to avoid the hassle of addressing worthier causes, I’ve decided to launch a “Just Say ‘Doesn’t’” campaign. The name refers to my biggest bugaboo – the incorrect substitution of plural for singular verbs, as in, “She don’t mind bad grammar.” Oh, but she do. She want to say, “Here’s a buck. Go buy the extra syllable.”


I’ll conduct workshops, perhaps setting folks up with electrodes to shock them for everything from subject-verb disagreement to bungling possessives, pronouns, and pronunciation. I’ll sell bumper stickers picturing the wagging finger of my vigilante mother, whose final demise was surely accelerated by her noticing uncapitalized proper nouns on her hospital chart.


Despite my obsession, I don't claim to be an Olympic grammarian myself. If you find grammatical mistakes in my blog, please chalk it up to poetic license, or else blatant duplicity. And please don't tell anyone. Let's just keep it between you and I.