Creatively Speaking: June Casagrande

Image credit: 

0143113321.jpgYou might recall my post on June Casagrande's first book, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies. Well, she's back with a new book, Mortal Syntax 101 (Language Choices that Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs Even if You're Right) and on Friday we'll be giving away 3 copies of it! But first, check out my interview with June below and discover the one grammar rule she's itching to change, and a whole lot more.

DI: We know whose side of the language snob war you're on, but still, there must be a couple offenses that really get your grammar goat. Lay 'em on us.

JC: I hate confessing this stuff. But you got me: I cringe when I hear "between you and I," mostly because people instinctively know better but are overcompensating for their grammar insecurities. We all know to say "between us" instead of "between we," but with these "and I" constructions, suddenly we start hearing a mom voice in our heads and we panic. Then, despite our instinctive understanding that an object form like "me" is called for after a preposition, we goof up and say "between you and I."

I also get a taste of bile from "there's" used before a plural. Technically, you can get away with this. The "Oxford English Grammar," for example, sanctions it. But I was taught to use "there are" before a plural, so it's hard to stomach "There's some people I want you to meet."

DI: How much has the success of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots & Leaves changed the language landscape? Or has it always been cool to kibitz about grammar?

JC: Lynne Truss did a good thing: She gave voice to all the people who were frustrated with a world full of misplaced apostrophes. It's a valid frustration. The problem is that, given the slightest bit of encouragement, these types can go too far. Way too far. So criticizing something like "carrot's" on a sign becomes a slippery slope into a valley of bullying and misinformation: a place where people run around making others feel dumb for ending sentences with prepositions, for using the word "nauseous" to mean "queasy" and for starting sentences with the word "hopefully" -- all of which are completely grammatical and acceptable. A pathetic brand of power-drunkenness if ever there was one.

DI: With technology making such an impact on words and language, can you imagine a day in the not-so-distant future when there are practically no rules governing its use?

JC: I can indeed imagine a world in which there are practically no rules governing the use of language. Ever read Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" or Stephen King's "The Stand"? Show me a scorched earth on which people are eating each other and I'll show you a world in which grammar rules have gone the way of the salad fork. But as long as we continue to be a society, we'll continue to conform to some standards of communication. In fact, Noam Chomsky has hypothesized that this stuff is innate -- hard-wired. I'm not qualified to weigh in on his theories. All I know is that grammar arose if not out of nature out of necessity. And every BFF knows you'll get a funny look if you call someone your FFB.

People worried that language standards are going to hell in a handbasket need to chillax.

DI: English is spoken the world over now. How much has the global-village influenced grammar?

JC: I don't know. I'm too busy worrying which I should learn first: Mandarin or Cantonese. (Brace yourself, world.)

DI: Have you ever coined a word? If so, what?

JC: I have indeed tried to coin words. Here's how successful I was: Not even I remember what they were.

DI: If you could change any existing grammar rule, what would it be?

JC: I would write a clear, unimpeachable and enforceable-by-federal-law definition of the prefix "-bi" as applied to words like "weekly." It would mean "every two." "-Semi," on the other hand, would mean "every half." Currently, that's not the case. "Biweekly" can mean either every two weeks or twice a week. Yes, really. Quoth "Word Court" columnist and "Atlantic Monthly" editor Barbara Wallraff: "-Bi is useless for making clear a rate of occurrence." Not if I had my way, it wouldn't be.

DI: How can our readers be in touch with you if they have grammar-related questions? Do you keep up an online presence?

JC: I welcome grammar questions of all kinds, including ones that begin with, "Some idiot in my office is betting me $20 that "¦" Send 'em to junetcn@aol.com (which I check infrequently but eventually). I also have a website and a blog at conjugatevisits.blogspot.com and a weekly grammar column at burbankleader.com (enter search term "Casagrande").

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>

Shhh...super secret special for blog readers.

More from mental_floss...

June 11, 2008 - 4:59am
webby
submit to reddit