Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

I often feel very self-conscious about my grammar and punctuation. I purchased a used copy of “The Chicago Manual of Style” but have never found the time and discipline to go through it methodically. I am very dependent upon built-in spell checkers to show me my frequent errors. I Google on words just to be certain of their spelling. At age 61 I doubt that I will gain significant writing skills. And yet I must continue try to express myself each day to keep what skills I have alive through practice. I have had access to Internet since 1998 which has allowed me to read new things that I might never encounter on the printed page and express myself each day in writing. Without Internet access I would have written far less.

I was a spoiled only child who went through the public school system prior to St. Johns. The most important thing that I learned from public school was to conform and get along in a large group where I am no one special and must suffer the knocks and bumps, grin and bear it. I don’t know how someone would learn such social skills with home schooling.

My G-Mail status reads “Grammar Nazi but he who lives by the sword dies by the sword so go ahead and correct me.” I have only average skills but I do care deeply about what I write and how I write. My prose may not be the magisterial prose of Gibbon but it is adequate to express my thoughts and it is the best I can muster. I hope I shall always value constructive criticism which helps me improve my skills and stop making the same errors over and over. I used to write “loose” when I mean “lose” until one day a learned Scottish gentleman pointed out this frequent error.

Young students SHOULD learn the basics of various of the world’s religions but I think that PBS style documentaries and books by people like Huston Smith are far more effective and less invasive that taking field trips.


@Adrian, I agree that things like Godwin’s law and critiques of grammar are sometimes a way of avoiding some inconvenient question that is not on everyone’s agenda. Another evasive tactic which irritates me is when someone says that a particular post is off-topic for the thread. The seminars that I remember from the 1960s rambled all over the place and yet remained pertinent to the assigned reading. One might try to claim that Plato’s “Republic” rambles off topic but what would such an argument achieve?

Besides, Facebook should or at least could be a less formal and relaxed way of interacting and exercising our minds without resorting to ad hominem. I see grammar and style as well as forbearance and equanimity as faculties which require constant practice and exercise and I am convinced that my years of Internet activity have improved me in these areas or at least prevented me from backsliding.

One recent FB thread was about an interview with Obama where in the second paragraph he was asked “do you believe Rev. Wright loves America as much as you do?” I raised what I felt were some excellent points about what it means to “love America,” hinting that it is an ill-defined piece of empty rhetoric. Some else agreed with me giving as an example “do you love dogs” to which she replied “I like some dogs for certain reasons, dislike other dogs and have certainly not met every dog.” We were told that we are “off topic.”

Sometimes it IS pertinent to mention Hitler (I could not understand why there was a red underline until I looked carefully and saw that I had written HILTER.) Certainly William Shirer is not forever refuted for writing “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”
Languages and cultures change when we are not looking. I imagine there was a time in the past when people seldom found fault with spelling errors in English for the simple reason that spelling was less standardized and there were no dictionaries.

Someone pointed out to me that in our times the humor of Jackie Gleason’s “to the moon, Alice” would be seen as violence against women. In the 1950s television shows such as “The Lone Ranger” and “Sky King” were NEVER allowed to show anyone being killed. As a child, watching these shows, I was not conscious of the censorship of violence. Hitchcock wanted to film a movie script in which the protagonist commits suicide but the movie code forbid the portrayal of suicide and so the script was rewritten to make the suicide a dream-sequence.

George Burns’s portrayal of Gracie as a simpleton would not go over well with today’s stress on equal rights and feminist interests.

Someone pointed out that “Winston taste good LIKE a cigarette should” is a grammatical error and should read “AS a cigarette should.”

I was taught to strictly use the impersonal “one” rather than “you” but now younger people tell me that I sound stilted and artificial.

There was once a distinct difference between “shall” and “will.”

If I normally leave work at 6 p.m. then I would say “I shall leave at 6 p.m.” BUT if someone asks me to stay late then I would say “I WILL stay until 7 p.m.”


@Martin: The monks in the Greek monastery where I stayed for 13 months would speak about “theologoumena” as questions or issues which could be discussed endlessly with no resolution (such as the details of the Dormition / Assumption) but the resolution of such questions are not “salvific” (not essential to salvation) in the way that the issues of the Ecumenical Counsels on matters of the Trinity required resolution.

I imagine there are “theologoumena” in language as well. We live with the fact that there are British and American spellings and usages. I wish I could “speak with the tongues of angels” but I cannot and yet neither can I remain mute.

I am sure we can examine Dickens and Hardy and find sentences which were perfectly correct then and are not now incorrect and yet now sound awkward or affected.

When I was a child we would gloat and say “Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary” but now of course it is.

One hesitates now to say in a narrative that “someone ejaculated (exclaimed)” and “gay” and “queer” have an entirely different connotations from “the gay nineties.”

A month ago I was in the street and heard some high school students actually speaking in text-speak (spelling out L-O-L.) I remember in the 1970s the first time someone on the telephone said to me “I want that ASAP” and I had to ask them what “ASAP” means.

Strunk & White distinguishes between “shall” and “will” in this way: If a person slips off a boat by accident, he laments “I shall drown! No-one will save me!”, whereas someone committing suicide defiantly yells, “I will drown! No-one shall save me!”- (thanks to Weldon Goree)


@Luis, Great post! You inspired me to Google on – relative pronoun case clause preposition
because I know there are a lot of helpful links around on grammar

These sites looks very interesting:

Excerpt: I found this error in a Time Magazine article on the Gores:
“She had just begun to realize whom it was she had married.”

The corrected version would read, “She had just begun to realize who it was she had married,” because “who” is the subject complement of the clause “it was who,” and therefore must take the same case as the subject (the subjective case).


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