Tag Archives: Grammar matters!

The Comma Queen

I’ve written before about how Mary Norris’s job at the New Yorker is one I not-so-secretly would prefer to the job I actually have. An excerpt of her forthcoming book (Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) appeared in this week’s issue of the magazine. The whole article is just cool (someone else has already called it “exquisite”); in it she says delightfully witty things like “The serial comma is a pawn in the war between town and gown.”

confessions_comma_queenAnd, her book is the #1 new release in the etymology category on Amazon! Etymology was another career-choice-other-than-accounting that I sometimes fantasized about. This was probably around the time I was reading Beowulf — Seamus Heaney’s version with the side-by-side Old English and modern English — for a Medieval Literature class.

Even if you don’t get as excited about grammar and punctuation as I do, you should go check out this article. All the discussion about how meaning is affected by how we choose to say things — simple comma placement and questions of authorial intent — this is stuff I love to think about. In her own words:

To understand how the language works, though — to master the mechanics of it — you have to roll up your sleeves and join the ink-stained wretches as we name the parts.

Because there’s nothing cooler (to me) than knowing exactly what you mean to say, understanding how to say it, and saying exactly that.

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Notes of Meringue

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I for one would like to harangue Trader Joe’s until they correct the spelling of meringue on their chardonnay.

Actually, I wouldn’t. I’m not one given to haranguing; I was just swept up in enthusiasm for the idea of juxtaposing words which end in the same sound spelled differently. More likely, as enchanting as “notes of lemon meringue” sound in a chardonnay, I’ll refuse to try it until this spelling travesty is corrected.

C What You’ve Been Missing

I spotted this on my way out of work the other day.

One of several electric vehicle charging stations.

One of several electric vehicle charging stations.

I work for the local utility company. Its principal business line is electricity. This is one label you’d really expect them to get right.

Author’s Note: When I was young, one of the occupations I thought of pursuing when I grew up was that of editor. It seemed like the second-best thing to writing books, really. As a solid speller in my elementary days, and possibly notorious in college for rewriting everyone else’s paper sections in those dreaded group papers, I suppose I thought I’d be good at it. Given my staunch preference for the Oxford comma, the only publication whose policies I feel I could enforce with any personal integrity would be the New Yorker, and I’m pretty sure they’re not interested in hiring a hopefully-former accountant / unemployed librarian as an editor or fact checker (although I believe I make a very good case for the attention to detail required for success in auditing predisposing me to excel at those jobs, and that’s not even touching on my of-old avid enthusiasm for the Oxford comma and — more recently — the dieresis).

A while ago, my sister suggested I start a series on my blog of misspells, grammatical errors, and other editing failures, committed by those who ought to know better. I dedicate the series to my sister, who suggested it, and a certain professor in grad school whose attention to our grammar, punctuation, and adherence to any style guide was excruciating. This is the first of those posts. If you’re a fan and want to see more, let me know in the comments!

True Confessions of Graduate School

After three years, turning in the final assignment of graduate school turned out to be an anticlimax. I think I expected enormous relief, maybe manifesting itself in spontaneous tears of joy or uncontrollable giggling, but in some ways it felt better to be almost done than to be actually done.

There have been a few moments since then where it seemed to really sink in that I am done with homework, probably forever (I hesitate to promise, given my track record). One was the first Saturday with no homework hanging over my head. Another happened at the grocery store this week, when I purchased two glossy magazines and realized I didn’t need to feel guilty about reading them. (In school, I probably still would have bought and read them, but I would have felt guilty the whole time about the school reading that wasn’t getting done.)

But if there’s one thing I hope I learned in the whole experience of grad school, I hope I learned that it’s important to stop and consider, to take a pause before responding or going headlong into something without figuring out first if it’s right. This may actually have nothing to do with graduate school and everything to do with getting to the end of my 20s, but they’re inextricably linked in my mind. But since I’m feeling confessional (it must be the absence of all that guilt!), I thought I’d put together a highlight reel of my graduate school “true confessions”.

  • In some ways, getting my undergraduate degree in accounting was harder than getting my MLIS.
  • Every time a phrase to the effect of “If I can’t do [insert school assignment] in [insert delusionally reasonable time frame], then why am I in grad school?” left my mouth, I lived to regret it.
  • “…by no means all paragraphs are well written.” Indeed, Mr. Patrick Wilson (author of said quote), and especially so if they appear in an article in a scholarly journal. At one point in time, I was convinced that there was an unwritten rule establishing a minimum number of typos and/or grammatical errors an article had to contain in order for it to qualify as graduate school material.
  • The use of Latin phrases like ab initio is highly annoying when done by other people and highly satisfying when done oneself.
  • Ontology and deontology aren’t opposites, which made reading for understanding, when you’re trying very hard to stay awake, more challenging than seemed absolutely necessary.
  • A professor who uses the words “ontology” and “deontology” extensively still may not be able to choose correctly between “principle” and “principal”.

Inevitably, though, people’s first question to me has been: “What’s next?” Well, I’m taking a pause. I’m going to do some volunteer work with libraries this summer, and I’m going to learn how to cook, for reals and like a grownup, with measuring cups and meats. I’m going to give my blog more attention, and I’m going to spend as much time as possible with my best friend before she moves really far away in September. And after all that, I’ll start looking seriously for a library job.

And, by golly, somewhere in there I’m going to finish Middlemarch.