Grammar Vandalism

I was listening to Monday’s Talk Of The Nation this afternoon – I listen to it the next day because my local NPR station doesn’t carry it, so I record it from the internet and time-shift it – and the segment with Kate McCulley caught my attention. Kate has a personal blog, but she also has started a blog called The Grammar Vandal. Now, admittedly many – most – of us moved beyond grammar somewhere in grade school, or junior high school. And it shows. I will freely admit that I’m one of those obnoxious people who abhors bad grammar. I wasn’t an English major like Kate. I was a Math and Physics major. Even in my most idealistic, anarchist, antimaterialistic period of college, I knew that at some point I would be fond of a regular salary. But I loved writing most of all, and writing requires language, and language requires grammar. Writing is an elegant tool, and elegant tools require an instruction manual. Otherwise we’re all just bashing screws with hammers. So when I heard the interview with Kate on NOR, I recognized a kindred spirit. The errors in grammar that we encounter every day drove her to start The Grammar Vandal:

I can’t tell where my hatred for grammar errors began. I think I can pinpoint it somewhere in middle school or high school, beginning as just a superiority complex. I assumed that I was surrounded by bad student writing, and that it would get better in college.

It did not.

Kate’s is a thankless crusade, but I wish her well. Most people will think of her as being overbearing and snooty. But I suspect a few people will see what she’s doing and pause long enough to consider how they should phrase their disdain.

The incorrect use of language is something that is constantly on my mind, because of a sign that I must pass every day when I leave my neighborhood:

“A neighborhood protected by Restricted Covenants”

I have a problem with this sign on two levels. To me, it comes off as more than a little pretentious. My little town has lots of upper-crust neighborhoods, where the homes sell for $350,000 and up, and a few older neighborhoods like mine that existed before the starter mansion craze hit. My town is plagued with subdivision covenants and municipal rules and restrictions the way Los Angeles is plagued with stoned, drunken pop harlots. So anyone looking at houses knows we have layers upon layers of rules in our little town. One auxiliary building per lot, whether it’s a 1/4 acre lot or a 5-acre lot. No chain-link fences anywhere. No parking cars on the street or on the grass beside your driveway. Seriously. You can’t park in your own yard. So this sign is really not necessary. And this unnecessary sign makes us, the residents of my neighborhood, look like idiots, because we officially don’t know the difference between restricted covenants and restrictive covenants. Or maybe it’s a Freudian slip – that we wish we could restrict our covenants, and rules, and regulations. Except that I know the neighborhood association officers who had that sign installed, one of whom defended the “no parking in the grass” rule by saying that sleepwalking children might get hurt walking into a car parked in the grass. There is apparently some sort of protective bubble around cars parked on driveways which prevents sleepwalking children from walking into those cars.

But I can’t finish this post without mentioning the one distressing thing I noticed on Kate’s personal blog. This person who cares so much about grammar couldn’t post about her appearance on Talk Of The Nation without a couple of utilizations of “f___ing”. I like what you’re doing, Kate, but I wish you could make a bit better use of your language skills.

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