I is Understood

This post is from a few years ago. Long enough that I forgot most of what I wrote in it, so I’m hoping you did too, and it will all be new and fresh. AND I got really frisky and used hashtags in this updated version.

DSC06545 - Version 2

 

 

Prudes are often self-appointed grammar nannies, making sure apostrophes are tucked in the cozy correct spots and participles don’t dangle dangerously.  The Tuesday Prude, however, hated diagramming sentences in school. Maybe it looked too much like math. When it was time to explore the beautiful world of grammar with our homeschooled prudlings, we choose a curriculum that didn’t technically require diagramming.

It was a good program and they learned enough not to embarrass me. The closest they came to diagramming was the requirement to pull prepositional phrases from each sentence and label the leftovers:  subject, verb, direct object etc.
Occasionally an imperative sentence reared its imperious head:
Shut the door.
Stop strangling your brother.
Rescue that dangling participle.

Where is the subject in the above sentences? We learned that the imperative is addressed to “you.”
You” shut the door.
You” stop strangling your brother.
You”. . .
You get the picture.
Their job was to label the subject as “You is understood.”
It was sort of fun to say. Try it. “You is understood.”

The fun didn’t stop when my boys finished school. There is a new way to use this rule.

It keeps the world from knowing just how inflated an ego I (aka The Tuesday Prude) am prone to.

One of the first rules a good writer learns: avoid beginning every sentence with the word
I.
Even in a blog, even on a Facebook status, or personal communication—start too many sentences with ‘I’ and readers get the notion that the writer is self-centered.

My readers would be right.

Ever hear the phrase “She thinks the world revolves around her?” Try as I will to convince myself that the world actually revolves on a tipsy axis, my id, ego and superego all argue the opposite. In the world of the self-centered, I am firmly in the middle.

Narcissism, however, wears thin. As an author, I don’t want to alienate readers. They want to believe I am interested in them, and I am. Truly I am. But I can’t seem to evict this nasty little core of me that wants to make sure no one bumps me from Centerville. Because no matter how much evidence to the contrary, deep down in my self-fascinated self is the idea that everyone else should be captivated with ME.

So I develop strategies to hide my absorption in spellbinding me. Look back and you’ll discover the sneaky ways I wrote an entire post about ME without once starting a sentence with ‘I’.
Sometimes, unfortunately, it is almost impossible to keep the
I-word anywhere but the engine part of a sentence. Unless one wants to totally convolute the syntax till the reader has to stand on his/her head to make sense of it.

That is where my ‘You is understood’ training comes in handy, with one crucial change.

Instead of writing
I am trying to avoid starting sentences with ‘I’”,
I drop the ‘I’ at the beginning of the sentence and it becomes a friendly, informal
‘Trying to avoid…”

The ‘I’ is understood but it sits modestly out of the reader’s line of vision, understanding that I am really the subject of me but not trumpeting the fact.

It gets easier:
“Loving this organic casserole that just came out of the oven!”
“Going to buy a new pair of jeans in a smaller size!”
“Just enjoying the cutest grandbabies on earth!”

All the above are just underhanded ways of saying:
#allaboutme  #mememememe #wanttoknowmoreaboutme #sureyoudo #stilldidntstartasentencewithI

Succumbing to the Epidemic

 

SuccumbIt had to happen. You comment on Facebook. Or tweet or post on your blog. You hit “Send” or “Publish.” You reread what you just wrote.
“Don’t let the mosquito’s carry you away!”

There, for all the world to see, is a misplaced apostrophe. You took a common garden-variety plural noun—more than one mosquito. (Not that there is any such thing. They travel in battalions.) You made it into a possessive. (Don’t let the mosquito’s WHAT carry you away? Their tiny legs?)

I know, I know. We have the option to edit. But aren’t you worried that this is just the first symptom of a more serious underlying ailment?

Like Apostrophe Plague?

Lice

Why did we think we could avoid infection? Apostrophes cover the earth like lice or fleas.

At the grocery store.
BANANA’S FOR SALE

On billboards
THE BEST LAWYER’S MONEY CAN BUY

In Advertisements
TATTOO’S AND PIERCING’S

On menus
TODAYS ENTREE’S
(this one is doubly potent)

On garage sale notices
LOT’S OF GOOD DEALS

Books and social media posts and poorly edited articles swarm with apostrophes that are where they shouldn’t be.

How did I think I could avoid being stung? A tiny apostrophe bacterium works its way from my eyes and worms into my brain. And I break out in misplaced apostrophe.

Do you want to know how bad it has gotten? On my fourth example above, above TODAYS ENTREE’S,
I put an apostrophe before the “s.” In menus!
Is there any hope?

Maybe I just have a weak constitution. Maybe I’m more susceptible to various punctuation plagues.
I suffer from a chronic case of Comma Elimination. My editor added several hundred commas to my latest manuscript. I missed inserting them after introductory phrases.
Well my excuse is that my comma-typing center finger was permanently affected by this plague. No really.
A side effect—or possibly a stand-alone affliction—has resulted in several instances of writing the word “to” (meaning “toward,”) when I meant to write “too,” (meaning also or excessively). This type of horrific mistake makes me feel that Mr. Hyde has taken over my reasonably well-educated Dr. Jekyll writing persona.

Maybe it isn’t too late for me. Vaccinations of Jane Austen, perhaps.
A diet high in grammar workbooks and booster shots of peer critiques administered regularly.
Add going cold turkey on apostrophes for a time and I may be able to kick this thing.

Once I get my strength back maybe that center finger on my right hand will regain function and be able to hit the comma key.

However only time will tell.

Simple Simon’s Rows

 

SONY DSC

My dear Garden of Grammar. I’ve neglected it since we examined  Apples to Apple’s.  I’m back now, and yanked out the ain’t weeds, cuz crabgrass and sprayed for I seen no-see-ums. It’s finally ready for us to continue our visit.

Moving to Plot Two, we first check on the to seedlings. If they have sprouted an extra o they no longer mean to-as-in-toward but too-as-in-also. Keep your two, to and too seeds separate. If they give you grief, remember what we tell fledgling gardeners—the too meaning also or in addition to has an ADDITIONAL o.

Not so serious as apostrophe aphids and a missing/spare o, but still pesky, the roaming n bears watching. It leeches onto the others skipping behind whole. “A whole nother problem?” Not if you are on the alert. Grab “n” and snip it right off the other.

Let’s stop a moment and admire the neat, straight rows of simple sentences. You know the ones. Tidy, easy to grow, these independent little basic clauses seldom give any headaches.

“This garden is lovely.”
“Aren’t action verbs fun?’
“Your prepositions are looking quite vigorous.”
Orderly rows of sentences with no meandering, they express just one idea and do it without any help. Not a comma, colon, semicolon or em-dash in sight.

Simple sentences are easy to grow and till and understand, but sometimes we long for complexity. That is why grammar gardens always include a trellis for sentence hybrids.

Come back sometime soon to admire our  Sentencus Compound-Complex
trellis

Apples to Apple’s

apples Collage

Welcome back to our In the Garden of Grammar Tour. Our first stop is the implement shed, where we PREFIX our implements. (We tillers of syntax soil will enjoy our little pun.) We polish our apostrophe tweezers, the ‘whole nother’ snips, the simple sentence edger, and our clause-grafter. We make certain the sprinkling can is filled with punctuation, and a high quality Oxford comma cultivator is ready. willing, and able. We load them all into the narrative wheelbarrow, along with loppers, fertilizer, pruner, shears and tendril adjusters. Because we value a tidy garden, we top it with a basket for pests and deadheads.

Once in the garden, we check immediately for apostrophe aphids. We welcome them in the bed of contractions, where we let them nibble away at the extra letters we want deleted. Without these tiny curved critters in our possessive noun plot, we couldn’t have a gardener’s hat, a flower’s beauty, a seed’s hull.  When they light on plural nouns, however, they cause problems.

There is one now. Apple’s for sale? Apple’s, an aphid’s presence implies, have something they can sell. True, apples possess peels, but the most capitalistic, free-market apple can’t sell its peel. Go ahead. Squish the little apostrophe aphid. Toss it in your deadhead basket and once again we have a bunch of apples at a (hopefully) good price.

As soon as the plural nouns are clear, you may see another swarm of apostrophe aphids chewing in the possessive pronoun bed. One little apostrophe can do incalculable damage to a possessive pronoun, nibbling its leaves into useless it is leaves. Once again, but not for the last time, you’ll need to pull the persistent pests who are turning your fragile little singular possessive into you’re fragile little singular possessive. Grasp the apostrophe firmly in your tweezers because you are NOT a fragile little singular possessive. YOU ARE A GRAMMAR GARDENER.

A word of caution as your stroll between the beds and among the flowers:
Our Latin roots turn up all over the place. This just shows we are a high class(ical) garden.
Many greenhorns stumble over i.e. from the Latin id est. They often assume they just stubbed a toe on e.g. (exempli gratia).
In less high-brow gardens id est goes by the name “that is” while e.g. will be written “for example.” Here is a useful tool from one word cultivator to another. (Unfortunately it uses muddied pronunciation, but we must be pragmatists and use implements that work.) Since e.g. means for example, just think of it as short for eggsample and you should be fine.

Join me next time as we visit SIMPLE SIMON’S ROWS

In the Garden of Grammar

young grammar gardener

Where would we be without words? They are inseparable from the rest of created things— everything that came into being simply because He Said. God used His creative words, words that were fruitful and multiplied, and then kindly gave them to us. All we had to do with words was tend them, subdue them, have dominion over them and use them wisely. Like everything else, we blew it, and now we are having one doozy of a job getting them under control.

Words, no longer exclusively lovely, orderly and life-giving expressions, have run rampant. Some are barbed, some false, some twisted and too many are poisonous. Grammar gardeners have no illusions about mastering all these wild words. Our task is a singular one. We keep words and everything they generate in functional order.

Examine a word carefully and you will see it is composed of small organisms called letters. A bunch of words in a certain order along a stem of almost any length is called a sentence. Wherever these organisms thrive and grow as they were meant to, you will find cultivators of syntax, spelling and phraseology.

Welcome to the Garden of Grammar, where a weed is never a we’d and we don’t use fewer manure because less will do. Be warned. The labors are ceaseless and under-appreciated. The personal satisfaction, however, is enormous. If you aspire to grammar gardening greatness, if you find yourself longing for additive-free words, pure punctuation, and irony-balanced soil, pull on your gardening gloves. We are heading to the plots of punctuation, paragraphs, parlance and linguistics, where tense isn’t a feeling, subject and verb always agree, and you can use your active voice.

Next in our garden tour: Apples to Apple’s

Could you toss me that roll of ellipsis tape?

Writers have a host of tools at their disposal*
In their box of power and hand tools, writers may use any or all of the following:
– The Synonym Screwdriver, with interchangeable tips, also called bits.
– The Sneer Quote “Hammer”
-The Adjustable Active Voice Wrench by which passive voice sections are removed
-The Comma Unsplicer is a great tool, it helps even the most novice of writers look as though she passed her grammar classes.
-I would also recommend that the Unnecessary Words Extractor should be found in any writers’ toolbox as it is very useful for tightening up sentences that drone on and on.
-This particular writer refuses to get rid of her Nuts and Bolts of Miscellaneous Adverbs no matter how vociferously anyone pronounces them obsolete.
Oh, and my up and coming favorite—I highly recommend this one—the Em dash Staple Gun. Holds sentences together.
But today we will examine one of my favorite tools of all time.
A roll of Ellipsis Tape. To cover something that for some reason we don’t want to write out.
An ellipsis is easy to use. Look:   …
3 dots. On the computer it is even easier than by hand.
Just depress the period key 3 times.
If you want to make more than one ellipsis, you can, but you have to refer to them as ‘ellipSES’ and you run the danger of over-kill taping.
But…or did I mention this already…ONE NEEDN’T BE A WRITER TO OWN AND OPERATE ELLLIPSIS TAPE!
Ellipsis Tape can also cover something we want to imply without really saying it.  ‘OK, honey, if you think that shirt you bought in 1984 still fits you…”

Ellipsis Tape can extend a grievance indefinitely. “Even Wilma Flintstone and Aunt Bea have garbage disposals. Why I still don’t have one, I have to wonder…”

Ellipsis Tape patches together the disparate thoughts that zing simultaneously through our heads as we struggle to communicate. “Drive carefully, watch out for deer and drunk drivers, and…you’re wearing THAT to go out tonight?”

Ellipsis Tape is a temporary fix for faulty memory. “I could have sworn I had enough gas to get us there…”

Ellipsis Tape can make one look more intelligent than one really is. We can appear to mull over a significant notion when really we just totally lost track of what we were about to say. “I was just reflecting the other day that…ah…hmmm…yes…deep reflection. Deep…deep…”

As a chatterer and a long-winded writer, I use my Ellipsis Tape all the time because I never know how to close out a conversation or a scene.
A period puts a direct and speedy end to a thought, idea, comment, or statement.
But the ellipsis lets me put that thought, idea, comment or statement on limitless hold until I return with something else to stick onto it.

If anyone wants to borrow my Ellipsis Tape, let me know…

*DISCLAIMER: IF A CERTAIN TOOL FALLS TO THE BOTTOM OF THE BOX, CERTAIN WRITERS MAY BE TOO LAZY TO FISH IT OUT. HENCE, BAD WRITING

Synecdoches, Synecdo-don’ts

SONY DSC

Next time some literary snob type tells you, in a world-weary sort of tone:
“ I suppose you don’t know what a synecdoche is,”
You can answer:
“Everybody knows that. Synecdoches form images in our minds with a convenient sort of shorthand. They help create our understanding of the entirety via a glimpse of only one part. So there.”

‘Synecdoche’ possibly isn’t one of your top 100 daily words.
(But if you want to haul it out at your next party make sure you pronounce it right.
Sort of like Schenectady)
Your synecdoche-comprehension is, however, perfect.
If I told you I got a ‘new set of wheels’ you wouldn’t congratulate me on a tire purchase.
You’d know I was talking about my (mythical) new car.
You celebrate with bubbly, sign your John Hancock, count heads and pay with plastic and you are a MASTER of the synecdoche.
‘All hands on deck’ demands more than just hands, but isn’t it so much more fun than asking all competent personnel to come topside? A Romeo and Juliet couple is headed no place good and if someone calls you Charlie Brown they don’t necessarily mean you are well-drawn.

Charlie Brown carries the burden of all lovable losers on his narrow shoulders. He can handle it. He’s made of ink, for goodness’ sake. A Venus is a synecdoche for lovely women while a Jane Eyre-type is plain but will get the blind bigamist in the end. It’s OK. The originals aren’t real. Elmer Fudd can be a stand-in for cartoon hapless hunters but don’t think for a moment he represents the whole of the real world of hunters.

With all that said, let’s check your synecdoche prowess.
‘Single mother’ What pops into your head?
How about ‘Homeschooler?’
‘Young black male?’
Is your brain ready to explode with the millions of different single moms, homeschoolers and young black men?
Are you shouting,
“Is that Tuesday Prude crazy? How can one single mom possibly stand for all single mothers? How can one homeschooled kid or young black male create our understanding of the whole?”
You know it isn’t possible.
Not everyone has your grasp of the obvious.
Some will take a hard-working single mother and use her to convince us that ‘single mother’ is synonymous for ‘hard-working.’
Someone whose identity has been stolen by a single mother will use her as a synecdoche for every single mother.
Kids schooled at home are kids. Some neatly dressed who call adults m’am or sir, some with Supreme Court-level comprehension of the Constitution, some playing video games all day in their pajamas. But there are folks out there—really, I have met them—who assume that the single homeschooler they’ve had access to must represent all those who are homeschooled.

Wisecracking Will Smith-type rascals, noble George Washington Carvers/Martin Luther King Jrs, or hardened African American gang members are incapable of helping us comprehend that entire elusive classification of ‘young black male.’
One single mom can’t represent all single moms. No woman can bear that burden. Since homeschooled kids are as varied as otherly-schooled youngsters it would be an impossible waste of energy to find one synecdoche for the whole.
Young black men, like young black women (or whatever hue or gender) face enough challenges. They barely know themselves. Heaven forbid one of them function as stand-in for everyone in their bracket.

Synecdoches make great figures of speech but lousy stereotypes.
Like literary device elitists, they must be kept firmly in their place.