Thursday, April 15, 2021

out-Naziing the language Nazis

You know it's a good day when you're reading a book on proper grammar, and you spot some errors by the authors.  Schadenfreude!  (I'm sure people feel the same way when they spot errors I make, and I provide plenty of grist for sharp-eyed error-spotters.)  My buddy Mike very kindly sent me, as a gift, a hilarious grammar/style manual titled The Elements of Fucking Style (the actual title is more timid, bowing to the PC crowd by inserting an asterisk where the "u" in Fucking should be), an obvious parody of the intergalactically famous The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, which has been around since before the Great Depression.  Written by grammar nerds Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen, the book is exactly the thing I've been planning to do once I finish my book of movie reviews:  my very own nasty, filthy, obscene tome titled Dirty Grammar.  You can get a taste of what Dirty Grammar will be like by reading through my ongoing series of posts on commas.  

I was depressed, at first, to see that I had been beaten to the punch, but once I started reading the book and catching the author's many errors, I began to derive a certain evil pleasure from my reading.  I don't know whether this is precisely the sort of enjoyment Mike had intended for me to experience, but, hey—fun is fun.

So!  What are some of the errors I've seen thus far?  I'll show them to you and let you guess what might have caused the ol' anus to clench.  For whatever it's worth, I'll leave my thoughts beneath each error in white font, surrounded by brackets.  Simply highlight the space between the brackets to read my mind-sludge.  Now... shall we begin?

It's an inescapable fact—especially as one exits childhood and enters young adulthood—that it's cool to be smart, fun to exercise a proclivity toward intelligent conversation, and an absolute necessity to be able to translate those skills into the written form.

[What bothers me here is the faulty parallelism:  "it's COOL TO be smart, FUN TO exercise..., and an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY..." See the problem?  The list goes adjective, adjective, NOUN.  That's sloppy writing.  Every item in the list should be grammatically similar.  A truly parallel sentence would be:  "'s cool to be smart, fun to exercise a proclivity toward intelligent conversation, and absolutely necessary to be able to translate those skills into the written form." Other grammar scolds might disagree that this is an egregious error, but to me, this is a fart in a church, a turd in a punch bowl, a cactus in a vagina.]

Is the above really "an inescapable fact," though?  Only nerds think this way.  By the way, I'm also unhappy with what I see as an unnecessary "the" in front of "written form."

With a few short and concise sentences we've illustrated the grammatical rule and done it in a way that you might actually remember.

[If you've been following my series on commas, you know that you should put a comma after an introductory phrase.  Failing to do so isn't the end of the world, but it's not good form, either.  The Brits are more likely than the Yanks to commit this particular sin because the Brits have taken a Viking's delight to murdering commas in recent years, but we Yanks aren't far behind, bayonetting whatever dying commas the Brits have left for us.  Anyway, to correct the above problem, put a comma after "sentences."]

(sample sentence) My date began the evening quite listlessly. Upon introduction of the cocaine she immediately perked up.

[Same problem as above:  an intro phrase needs a comma—after "cocaine" in this instance.  Are Baker and Hansen British, perchance?]

Junior, like "the sikh" or "the fag," is restrictive and doesn't take a comma.

[Capitalize "Sikh," assholes!  To be fair, though, I think this is a typo.]

According to my Kindle app, I'm only 9% into the book, and that's four errors found already.  I'd say that I dread the number of errors I'm going to encounter as I continue reading, but in truth, I look forward to finding them, then to writing a better grammar book.  Let Baker and Hansen poke holes in Dirty Grammar if they dare!

ADDENDUM:  on, the blurb for The Elements of Fucking Style says, in part:

One glance at your friend's blog should tell you everything you need to know about the sorry state of the English language. This book gives you the tools you need to stop looking like an idiot on message boards and in interoffice memos.

I had a good chuckle at that.  That's precisely why I'm into proper expression:  people look foolish when they trip over language.  It's hard to take someone seriously when she can't express herself properly.  When you try to be profound, and you end up looking illiterate, you suck all the dignity out of your own good intentions.  What a waste of time and effort.  Same goes for people who try to be witty when creating memes but fail to display good grammar, mechanics, and style.  The "wit" curdles, and all that's left is verbal retardation.  Fine, I'll make an exception for a dying 90-year-old relative who can barely hold a pen or peck out a sentence on a keyboard, but no one else gets a pass.

The Buddha's final words were, according to legend, "Work out your salvation with diligence!"  For all who are inclined to write, I say:  Work out every sentence with diligence!  Take the time to care about what you write.  Take pride in your self-expression; don't be sloppy and expect others to clean up your mess.  That's the way of the mentally lazy fool.


John Mac said...

Ouch. And not just for the image the "cactus in a vagina" phrase, which I'd never heard before, brought to mind.

Then again, it must be painful for you to read my sloppy ramblings. Although, after all these years, you must be getting used to it. No writer is totally worthless. They can always serve as a bad example!

Kevin Kim said...

If I could instill in you the desire to master those commas, that would be something. But yeah: for better or for worse, I think I have gotten used to the sloppy punctuation.