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 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.