Guest Post, Elane Johnson: And Now, A Message from the Grammar Police Chief

Elane Johnson thought bubbleIn my position as chief of grammar police, I’m often asked to wax poetic about Standard Written English (SWE), and if you don’t know what “wax poetic” means, just don’t. Please go back to your original search because you obviously clicked here by accident. You were probably trying to spell “Kardashian” or “nude,” which is nowhere near “Superstition” or “Review,” but I rest my case. #damnpeoplelearnhowtospell

Anyway, the fine folks here at SR hit me up sometimes for a few grammar tips, and while it might be a teensy bit difficult to pare down my pointers to a “few,” I’ll try.

Common errors that writers make because they don’t read cause me bodily harm. As I’ve often lamented (including twice in previous SR guest blogs), many people learn language primarily from hearing instead of reading, God help us, so, for example, because the contraction should’ve sounds like should of, I frequently see folks write it the second way despite the fact that it causes me to writhe around on the floor in my own fluids like a possessed waif in the presence of a priest and a vial of holy water. The Closed Captions typist wrote “should of” during Seth Meyers’s monologue tonight, and now I’ve got to mop allllll the floors tomorrow. Thanks.

Another grammar-error pet peeve: Writers who use there’s in a plural sitch like the one below, which seems pretty popular in local commercials where everyone is hollering:

“There’s 17 reasons you should come on down to Sofa Kingdom!”

I mean, come ON. First of all, I seriously doubt there are 17 reasons. And second, get your subject/verb agreement right. Sofa Kingdom.

Also, plural nouns created with an apostrophe + s get my dander up:

“Come sample our 10 new flavor’s of frozen yogurt at Burlene’s Yogurt Emporium!” (Are you just trying to see if I bleed?? I do, okay?? Happy?? It’s flavors, you ice cream wannabe. And stop hollering!)

I feel that the death penalty is appropriate for the misuse of there’s and apostrophe + s; for failing to capitalize the personal pronoun, I; for writing snuck instead of sneaked; and for writing nauseous instead of nauseated like this:

I found a piece of chocolate on the kitchen floor and ate it, but it turned out not to be chocolate, and now I feel nauseous.

While anyone who eats “chocolate” off the floor truly is nauseous – which means “causing nausea” – the dadgummed dictionary now considers nauseous to mean nauseated, and do you know why??

Popular usage, that’s why.

The very same reason that snuck is becoming the accepted word to mean sneaked. The very same reason that some nutbags are about to declare that my most cherished incorrect grammar pet peeve is no longer grammatically incorrect! Is everyone at the dictionary on drugs!??

When writers use the plural pronoun their with a singular antecedent, it is just plain wrong. For example:

*Everyone thinks their way is best. (← Noooooooooooooo)

*Everyone thinks his/her way is best. (Ahhh. That’s nice. Even though everyone can’t be the best. There’s only one, and just because everyone – even the losers – gets a trophy for participation doesn’t change things. #damnpeoplegrowapair)

Now, I understand the agony our young must suffer in having to spend the extra nanosecond to say three syllables instead of one, really. There’s no telling how many levels of Mortal Kombat a person could advance if only he or she didn’t have to waste time writing “he or she.”

Obviously, it’s in everyone’s best interest if we bend alllllll the rules of grammar to suit the rising majority. Am I right?

I mean, any day now, SWE will be a thing of the past, gone the way of dinosaurs and dragons except those three that belong to Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. There will be no need for any more SR grammar blogs from Elaneasaurus; the Chief of Grammar Police will be out of a job and living next to a dumpster behind the Golden Corral. And shoot, any old body will be able to win the National Spelling Bee because we’ll all just spell words any old way we feel! And, texting shorthand will soon be allowed in academic papers. The upside is that papers will be just a handful of letters, so grading should be a breeze. I should be thrilled at this gradual relaxing of rules. Right? Right?

Guest Post, Elane Johnson: Criminally Bad Grammar

Okay. I admit it. Sometimes…sometimes, I want to be a real-life version of Cameron Diaz in the only funny 15 seconds of the hideously horrible movie, Bad Teacher, and mark up my students’ papers in huge, red profanity. I mean, come on! Somebody show me a college or university that allows texting language in academic writing…although with the dumbing-down of our educational system, I’m sure that sooner or later, some brilliant “educator” will suggest that we bend the rules to accept texting slang “to meet students where they are.” I will die.

I love my students, and I am more than happy to contort myself to help them, but I draw the line at accepting lower case “i” for the personal pronoun. I mean it. If I see that lower case “i.” One. More. Time. My big, red “What THE?!” is going to be scrawled in student blood. (JK.)

Elane JohnsonAlthough I am the Chief of the Grammar Police, I’m way too polite to kill anyone for stabbing me in the brain with grammatical gaffes even if it is clearly self-defense. Plus, I’d go to prison, and I just look like death in orange. For some grammar offenses, anyway, there will never be justice because it’s nearly impossible to teach 12 years of grammar in 12 weeks. (And…Autocorrect. Ohhhhh, that Godforsaken Autocorrect. If you rely on your telephone for correct spelling, and then you end up telling your grandmother that you really enjoyed her vagina instead of her lasagna, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Standards are slipping because in addition to texting, an epidemic of non-reading threatens all that I hold holy.

Scientific data from some study blah, blah, blah shows that people have a much larger auditory/speaking vocabulary than their reading vocabulary, which is then larger than their writing vocabulary. That means that people learn most of their words from hearing them, so recognizing many words in print or actually writing them proves to be a challenge. As a result, we English teachers encounter things like this: My goals is to keep up with the paste”, I want to past this class“, “I have to deal with stuff on a daily basics”, “This class really peeped my interest“, “So I will keep trying until I get it down pack” and “You can do anything that you put your mine to.”

Annnnnnd, my soul just died.

However, as the Grammar Police Chief, it is my duty to restore peace and harmony to the writing community. If I train my blinding spotlight on these 7 common offenses, perhaps the community will pull together and eradicate these blights. A girl can dream.

1.) Plural nouns are not formed with an apostrophe and “s.” Really. I mean it.

If you can read this, and you think it is correct, you had maybe not so great teacher’s. (Evillllllll!)

If you can read this, thank your excellent teachers. (Ahhhhhh!)

2.) Definitely is definitely not spelled defiantly.

3.) If you start in past tense, for the love of God, you must stay in past tense.  (Or vice versa.)

Yesterday, we were in the Wal Mart parking lot, when this guy comes up and starts yelling at me for no reason. (Gaaaacckkkk!!!)

**Special note: If you cannot locate the shift in tense, please just go ahead and stop reading. You’re done.

4.) When the antecedent (the noun for which a pronoun “stands in”) is singular, you must use a singular pronoun. And for the last time, their is not a singular pronoun.

Anyone who leaves their dog at the kennel after hours will need to call Dan’s Express Pet Crematorium and Super Hibachi Buffet. (Nooooooo!!!)

Anyone who leaves his/her dog at the kennel after hours will need to call Dan’s Express Pet Crematorium and Super Hibachi Buffet. (Yessssssss!!!)

5.) Internet should be capitalized. What is the aversion to an upper case “I”?? Sheesh.

6.) The objective case of a personal pronoun (me, her, him, us, them, you, it) receives the action of a verb or acts as the object of a preposition.

Mother baked a cake for Sally and I.  (No, no, no, no, no)

Mother slapped Sally and I. (No, no, no, no, no)

Mother did NOT bake a cake for “I”! She baked a freaking cake for me. For me! ME, dammit! And, she didn’t slap “I” either. She slapped m… But, I’d rather not talk about that. Look, I know some well-meaning first grade teacher told you that it’s always “so-and-so and I,” but she lied. She also told you that the classroom hamster went to live on a nice farm, and you fell for that too! So, stop it. Just stop it.

7.) And, finally, believe it or not: formatting dialogue has rules! Those little quotation mark thingies do more than just look like tiny eyelashes. They go around the actual words that someone speaks so that readers will know the actual words that someone speaks. But, really, this is a topic for another day…


Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

Elane with FrappuccinoAs many writers know, we have to get a “real job” in order to keep those Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos ® coming because those things ain’t cheap, and my thighs aren’t going to get fatter all by themselves. Wait a minute. That’s clearly not true. The longer I sit here doing jack, the more thunderous my thighs become. But I digress.


A real job. That’s where I was. There are many careers for which a writer would be a good fit, but just because we would be good at something doesn’t mean we should do it. Sure. I’d be the most celebrated WalMart manager south of Canada, but then I’d have to come home and self-flagellate at night to atone for the murder of my brain cells. So most writers without a multi-volume book deal about zombies coming of age during the apocalypse do that thing we do, which is teach.


I’ve many, many years of teaching under my tight belt, and there have been thrills and laughter and heart-warmth and breakthroughs and achievements and success and enormous paychecks that compensated me well for the services I’ve provided. Except for that last part. That’s bullshit. Anyone who teaches knows. Teachers—even those with an M.F.A. in creative writing—get paid squat to impart our wordsmith’s knowledge to hordes of students who may or may not capitalize the personal pronoun I. Yet we continue because A) We love our language and its beauty. B) We care about the success of our students. And C) Those Frappuccinos ain’t going to buy themselves.


The English language—while it is the most difficult of all the languages in the world to learn because of its plethora of rules and exceptions and integration of foreign words—thrills me with its lyrical malleability. My father and I played games with grammar all my young life so that I came to appreciate the ways in which a writer may play with the poetry of English. And my own children have blossomed in the linguistic soil their grandfather tilled. My younger daughter delights in learning and sharing new words. She recently dropped this one on me: Apricity. The word sounds lovely, and its meaning slays me. It is a perfect example of how the English language proffers just the right word for any instance. In this case, “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn’t that just breathtaking?


I rushed to the window that morning—the first of which in weeks the sun had finally burned through the snow-thick clouds—to luxuriate in the apricity.


Yes, yes. I know it’s an obsolete word and that we’ve moved on to such accepted terms as homie and vajazzle, for God’s sake, but still. Our language is a living entity, forever evolving (or devolving, it appears). But thank goodness our language throws back some of the “new” words that end up in its net, such as the words some of my students create because they learn primarily through hearing instead of reading. The most common, of course, is should of. Because those two words sound just like should’ve, it’s an oft-made error that makes me want to poke out my eyes with dull sticks. In the last week of grading papers, I’ve come across mind bottling and world wind romance. Lord, help me, but what the hell?


Aberrations like these are an affront to writers-who-must-be-teachers-in-order-to-eat everywhere! We poor, struggling souls toil like cats in a sandbox in our attempts to improve the writing skills of our charges. But c’mon! There is no excuse for college students NOT to capitalize I or to think that pit bulls have a “killer instant in them” or that “taking something for granite” means anything! The least that our students can do is to read, read, read excellent models of our language so that they can experience and emulate the right way to write (not the “rite way to wright”). And bringing us a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino once in a while couldn’t hurt either.

Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: So You Want to Be a Writer…

Elane JohnsonI was destined to write. My grandmother always told me I’d be a writer, and she had an uncanny ability to see the future. She said, “If you clown around in those roller skates and fall down on that rough pavement and scrape your knees, you’re getting no sympathy from me.” And it happened exactly the way she predicted. (I’d just like to know where she was with her front-porch-rocking-chair advice when I really needed it? Like, “If you marry that idiot you’ve only known two months, it will turn out bad.” Stuff like that, I could’ve used.)

After years and years of Mama’s reverberating prognostication, I tiptoed gingerly to the edge of the cliff of artists’ angst and submitted my first piece for publication. Of course, she proved to be an accurate soothsayer yet again when I was the first nine-year-old to have a poem published in The Daily Sun. Unfortunately, at forty-three, I’d yet to have my second piece accepted for print. So I decided to sail head-first and backwards off that damned cliff and get an MFA in Creative Writing. Since then, I’ve started my own irreverent blog, Blu-hoo, and I’ve had a few pieces published. Mostly for free.

Look. I’m the last one to burst your bubble, but let me tell you: Get a day job. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll have to have another source of income because writing doesn’t pay all that well. Yes, the enormous success of some first-time writers is enticing. But for every J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or E L James, there’re thousands of writers toiling to get noticed. One thing I’ve discovered is that dreaming about writing doesn’t make it happen. It’s hard work unless you are a celebrity or a statesman. However, there are things you can do to improve your chances for success.

Write. A lot. While it may seem impossible to squeeze one more second out of your compacted day, sleep is really overrated. Write instead.

Bone up on your grammatical skills. As Stephen King posited in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, the most brilliant guide to the art of writing ever, “Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking” (114). No one wants to read error-filled drivel. And for heaven’s sake, capitalize the personal pronoun I, or somebody’s going to get hurt.

Read. For example, since I write primarily creative non-fiction, I’ve read a slew of memoirs to determine things that work and things that don’t. I love Haven Kimmel’s memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, so much that if the state of Indiana allowed matrimony between people and inanimate objects, I’d marry it. (Since the state currently doesn’t recognize unions between people with identical 23rd chromosome pairs, I don’t hold out much hope.) Reading Haven is like listening to her talk. She creates metaphors so stunning you want to poke your eyes out with a hot fireplace tool, but her cadence is easy like an hour on a front-porch swing. Augusten Burroughs, master memoirist, also employs a believable conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting right next to him—comparing hardships—in some wino-breath-scented dive while your own vomit chunks flake off your shirt. When you read exceptional writing, you learn to emulate your role-models.

Get followed. Unless you have a substantial Twitter/FaceBook/Tumblr/Pinterest following, it’s hard to pique a publisher’s interest anymore. If you already have a fan-base, you’ve got an advantage. But. You still have to be able to write. And write well. Be fresh. Exciting. Create magic.

It’s also helpful if you’re able to divine “the next big thing,” so that your writing will ride the wave of whatever is popular. Fortunately, topics tend to be cyclical, so by my calculations, it’ll be 63 billion years before vampires are hot again.

If all else fails, become a celebrity. Shoot. If Honey Boo Boo can do it, so can you.

Honey Boo Boo


King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Pocket Books.


You can read Elane Johnson’s word essay in issue 6 of SR.