Oh, sweet dancing monkeys on a stick – they’re teaching grammar to Tabitha down at Mighty Clever Guy Middle School. This means that I have officially reached the point where I am unable to help her with her homework anymore.
I like grammar. Really, I do. I use it all the time. I insist on it when people speak to me and write things for my perusal, and I judge people who fall short of that standard. Contrary to what you may have heard out there on the internet, grammar is not about adhering to every little rule that has ever come down the pike and been thrown out there in someone’s English class for you to follow. It’s about writing clearly, speaking clearly, and thinking clearly. It has been my experience that exterior communication generally mirrors internal processing, and if the one is muddled and incoherent so too is the other.
If other people have to stop and decode what you’re trying to say, chances are it’s not worth hearing.
That is my standard of grammar. I don’t always follow the rules to the last jot and tittle – I have a weakness for dashes in the middle of sentences, for example. And I like to start sentences with conjunctions. Also, fragments. I am aware of these things, though, and I do them for the specific effects they create. I try not to let them interfere with my main purpose, however - whatever else you care to say about my writing, speaking and thinking, it is clear.
Just don’t ask me what anything is called.
There is a gaping big hole in my education where the names of the various parts of speech and grammatical tricks and gimmicks ought to be. I have never diagrammed a sentence. Indeed, once you get beyond the material found in School House Rock it all blends together in my head – and even some of that material is just a catchy tune and some great animation, as far as I can tell. It took me years to figure out what the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb was, officially, and I’m still not entirely sure what a predicate does, Mr. Morton notwithstanding.
I can use those things in my writing, and use them correctly. But ask me to explain exactly how I know these things and most likely all you’ll get out of me is a vague sort of hand-waving and a general pushing off of the request onto someone else.
At least that’s what happened when Tabitha tried it.
She had some English (excuse me: Communication Arts – they’re hip to the jargon down at MCGMS) homework this week all about adverbial prepositions or prepositional adverbs or predatory albinos or whatever they were. Basically she had to write an essay and identify these sorts of things wherever they appeared. She asked me to check it over for her when she was done.
This turned out to be a mistake on her part.
I could tell where things were grammatically written or not grammatically written. I could even make improvements on bits of writing here and there. But naming the pieces of speech? Go talk to your mother, kid.
Maybe she’ll have some history homework I can help her with sometime soon.