March 4: There’s a National Grammar Day? So, three pronouns walk into a bar . . .

“National Grammar Day is Wednesday,” I told my eleven year old daughter.

She looked up and said with deadpan delivery, “Every day is grammar day.”

I winced. I chuckled.  She’s poking fun at ME, but she’s doing more than poking; she’s taking a jab at me. She’s the same daughter who gave me this T-shirt for Christmas.

Grammar T

What can I say? I’m misunderstood.

When you home school your children and teach English, OK LOVE English, they mistake you for a grammarian. My daughter has lumped me in with that lot. I do find the occasional sign or bureaucratic memo or punctuation error amusing.  But I’m forgiving and understanding generally, because it’s easy to make a mistake or typo.

I’m not as forgiving with my own children, because frankly who else will teach them?

I love language and words and syntax and diction and what makes sentences work or not work.  University of Iowa Professor Brooks Landon describes it this way.  Grammar deals with the rules underlying our understanding of language, the machinery of a sentence.  Rhetoric or style deals with how sentences actually work, or what makes a sentence effective. Effectiveness and elegance in writing are both rhetorical issues and grammar alone can lead to neither. (Link to Elegant Sentences and the Difference Between Grammar and Rhetoric)

Hemingway wrote:

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.  (Selected Letters)

Humor helps with learning.  Grammar jokes help  my children recognize mistakes in usage, punctuation, and effectiveness. So here are several.

“Let’s eat Grandma!”  “Let’s eat, Grandma!”  Commas save lives.

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar.  It was tense.

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar.  They sit. They drink. They leave.  (Grammarly.com)

A gerund and an infinitive walked into a bar, drinking to drink.  (Grammarly.com)

When I shared these with my family, I often got blank looks.  So I came up with a couple of my own and they listened. They even smiled.

Three pronouns walked into a bar and got into a fight.  She let him have it.

An interjection walked into a bar.  Ouch!

This week, my son made up this joke at the table. “Mom, four demonstrative pronouns walked into a bar.  They ordered this and that and these and those.”

How’s that for progress?

In the words of the late Richard Mitchell:

“If you cannot be the master of your language, you must be its slave. If you cannot examine your thoughts, you have no choice but to think them, however silly they may be.”  (Less Than Words Can Say link)

Mar 4, 2015

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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