I taught English for 21 years and I often read grammatical mistakes in your writing. This makes me cringe. May I suggest that you refrain from calling yourself a columnist (as you often do) until you get your grammar in order?
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not a columnist. True newspaper columnists like Ann Landers and Erma Bombeck were in command of the English language. Your command is questionable.
DEAR MRS. SUNSHINE:
You’re more fun than a trip to the dentist. Which is exactly where I was when I read your gracious email. I was sitting in the dentist’s chair while Doctor Tim Nettles of Columbiana, Alabama, was peering into my oral cavity and admiring several decades of Folgers stains.
During this vulnerable moment, my phone vibrated in my pocket with your uplifting email. What a blessing. You sound like someone I could really be friends with.
But hey, you’re entitled to your opinions. This is America. And like my grandfather always said:
“Our opinions are like shiny award plaques hanging in used car dealerships that nobody gives a flying flip about.”
You would have liked Granddaddy. He would have made you cringe, too. He butchered English like it was a dollar-store minute steak. The man worked in sentence fragments the way some work in oils or clay.
“Sir?” a waitress might say to Granddaddy. “Would you like a refill on your iced tea?”
He would extend his cup and grunt: “Much ‘blige t’ya.”
The waitress would commence pouring, whereupon Granddaddy would nod and say, “‘Preciate ch’all.”
Before walking away, the waitress, who also spoke fluent Fragment-ese, would give the universal response. “Ah-ite.”
You would have been in linguistic heaven.
So you’re absolutely right about me fouling up the English language. And I for one ‘preciate cha. Thank you for taking the time to help me understand just what a star pupil I am. You deserve a shiny plaque.
Although in my defense, my stinky English probably comes from all the blue-collar jobs I’ve worked. We low totem guys were not exactly known for quoting Lord Byron on our lunch breaks. Neither were we noted for our sparkling Sunday-school grammar.
No, if you would have overheard me and my pals speak everyday English on construction jobsites you would’ve probably had a coronary event. Then you would have fired us and hired English majors to construct your two-story deck.
A guy learns to talk funny when he digs ditches for a living. And as it happens, I actually did dig ditches for a living. I did a stint with a company that excavated irrigation trenches and installed sprinkler systems.
One time I was cutting a 300-foot trough through the mud when I was struck with a rare moment of existential awareness, and I started laughing.
My coworker, Jesús, asked what was so funny. So I told him I’d just realized I was a literal ditch digger.
Jesús failed to see the humor because he spoke limited English. All Jesús said was, “You feelin’ alright, man? Maybe you should go lay down.”
Sadly, Jesús got fired after that because it’s “lie” not “lay.”
So I wasn’t groomed to be a writer. Let alone a columnist. I apologize for mislabeling myself. You know what I am? I’m just a guy. A guy who makes a lot off mistikes&3,/$
But here’s something you might not know. Did you know that most classic columnists made lots of grammatical mistakes, too? I’m not kidding. Your well-known columnists of yore were always getting criticized for frequent usage of cereal-box grammar.
Since you mentioned Erma Bombeck. Here’s what Saint Erma had to say about her grammar in an old column:
“I’m sure my 3rd grade English teacher, Mrs. Kinsler, (may she rest in peace. Or is it piece?) would be appalled to know that I had not yet mastered the “I vs. Me” rule. She once sent a letter home to my parents and I (me and my parents?) about my ongoing problems with this rule, and one time she even sent me to the principal (principle??) because of it.”
You also brought up Ann Landers in your letter to me. Well, here’s what Dear Ann had to say in a column to the grammar police decades ago:
“…As one who has split countless infinitives and dangled many a participle, I applaud your point of view. A person who has nothing to say, and conveys it in flawless English, still says nothing.”
If I’m being honest, friend, my first reaction to your critique was to rattle off a four-page response attempting to justify things and make myself feel better.
But why? Why fuss and fight over comma splices when we could have an infinitely more gratifying argument about religion, professional sports, or child rearing?
No, these days we have too many who are obsessed with being right when they ought to be more worried about being nice. And as of right now I’m making a serious vow with myself to be a nicer guy.
Speaking of nice people, here’s what Ann Landers had to say about nice souls:
“Blessed are those who hold lively conversations with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called dentists.”
You really should visit my dentist sometime. He works wonders on bad mouths.