Tag Archive | grammar

Getting Prepositioned

On the edge, under the gun, at wit’s end, around the bend, under pressure, over the top, beside oneself, near panic. When someone asks how you are this time of year, just grab yourself a preposition. A preposition shows location. With a few exceptions, it’s anything you can say about a table: on, under, beside, etc. We also use prepositions to describe the soon-to-be-declared crazy.

This time of year we rush around, finding just the right gifts for our loved ones, deeply engrossed in a buying-wrapping-giving orgy of activity. For me it’s always a time of excess in spending, cooking, and eating. There are no small revels, only small revelers. I spend enough on the big dinner to feed us for a month. We ingest enough calories to supply energy for an alpine forced march. And our post-holiday bills roughly equal the GNP of Uganda. It’s the American way.

Our holiday excess is an art form. Children’s letters to Santa read like inventory sheets for Toys R Us. But we still weep over reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” Christmas episodes, when the kids offer Ma the set of coasters they made for her with their own little hands. She caresses them as if golden—although actually made from buffalo chips–and tearfully declares this the best Christmas ever! There is a credibility gap between our fantasy of Christmas and the reality.

I really try to give what people want, or at least something they need. I only resort to summer sausage and cheese log assortments when buying for complete strangers. (This begs the question, why buy gifts for strangers, but it comes up every year.) I ask for suggestions, make lists, put down alternate ideas, and I buy with care. It makes for fewer surprises, but that’s not always a bad thing.

I pity the family members who have to buy for me. When asked, I always say I can’t think of a thing I need. I really am happy as I am, but that doesn’t help my family. And my tastes are so eclectic, only my daughter will take a flyer on something she thinks I’ll like.  This is why Husband Bryan considers Christmas shopping for me the Seventh Circle of Hell. Ever since the Opal Fiasco, he insists I make a list.

Early in our relationship, he bought me a beautiful opal ring and necklace. I smiled bravely, thanked him profusely, and tried not to feel doomed. You see, my mother, who had a superstition for every occasion, always said wearing opals was bad luck unless it was your birthstone. Although some people thought you could neutralize the curse if the opals were surrounded by diamonds, my mother pooh-poohed that as wishful thinking. To be on the safe side, she advised avoiding barehanded contact with an opal of any kind.

Trying not to look like I was raised by a Tennessee mountain witch (although not far from the truth), I smiled and donned the acursed gemstones. When they didn’t immediately sear my flesh, I thought perhaps I’d dodged a bullet and could wear my gifts in health and safety. This was not to be. After a year of the worst luck I’d had in my entire life, I broke the news to Bryan and permanently deposited his gifts in my jewelry box. He accepted the situation with the grace of a man who knows a no-win situation when he sees one.

From that time on, however, I never received another surprise gift from my husband. He gets my list and googles each gift to make sure it doesn’t come with an associated curse. He’s under the gun because of a wife who is around the bend, and I’m beside myself with holiday angst.  Getting those presents under the tree is a dangerous preposition.

Grammar Crimes and Misdemeanors

All right, class. It’s time to rant against grammar atrocities. I may only write about them once a year or so, but anyone who spends much time with me hears about them frequently. This could account for my Native American name, “Sits Alone Grumbling.”

Several years ago I published a monthly newsletter, “Janet Grammarseed’s Advice to the Wordlorn,” grammar wisdom directed at middle schoolers. If I started it up again, the target audience would be much larger. Just as Booth Tarkington’s classic, Seventeen, today would be retitled Eleven, Maybe Twelve, my little newsletter would be renamed, “Watch Your Damn Language!”

Whereas Janet Grammarseed skipped across the Heartland, gently correcting grammar and spreading good syntax wherever she went, today’s approach would require a much tougher avatar. Enter the Gramminator, roughing up anyone who fails to reach agreement between subjects and verbs, amputating dangling participles, and kicking ands and buts.

When our children were young, if they made a grammar mistake, say, at the dinner table, my husband and I would grab our throats, pretend to choke, fall on the floor, and feign unconsciousness. Perhaps that was a bit extreme, but our son sends grammatically correct, perfectly punctuated texts. Our daughter is poised for a career in journalism—the last bastion of complete sentences.

I admit I’ve mellowed. I’ve given up trying to explain the subjunctive (If I were, if it were…) When confronted with most grammar atrocities, I close my eyes and peacefully chant, Om-m-m-m. Now I focus on only one grammarcide. I’ve drawn a line in the sand of my Zen garden regarding that particular pockmark on the face of my Mother Tongue, and  I refuse to budge.

I am dedicated to bringing The Word about the past tense of sneak…one small step for grammar, one giant leap for grammarkind. The faux pas that has me digging in my heels is so legitimized by use, it actually appears in some dictionaries, obviously those toadying to teenagers and the news media.

The past tense of sneak is sneaked—not snuck.

Snuck is the sound one makes when trying to rid oneself of nasal congestion. It is the result of phlegm, not stealth. Be honest. Does snuck sound like the language of Shakespeare and Churchill? I think not.

I’m not asking for much. Please, teach your children and yourselves along with them: a word that sounds like a goose with post nasal drip has no place in the Land of the Well-spoken and the Home of the Grammatically Correct.

If I could just eradicate that one atrocity, the use of snuck, I might earn a mention in Wikipedia as the Eradicator of Snuck. Move over Jonas Salk. Perhaps then I could hang up my grammar spurs and live out my Golden Years in peace.

Or not.