You 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 firstname.lastname@example.org (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").
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