Grammar counts. Really.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people act like grammar doesn’t matter. Punctuation is optional, and if one exclamation point is good, more are better.

You can get away with that when you’re tweeting or texting, or even e-mailing. I will confess to being profligate with the exclamation points in e-mails. (Not in tweets. You don’t have the space.) But when you’re writing something for publication–even if it’s just a Letter to the Editor of the local newspaper–you flat out have to pay attention to your language, including spelling and grammar.

I’ve taught junior college history and government classes. I always required two book reports in the history classes for part of the grade. I told them that I didn’t grade for grammar, but

Grammar was invented so we could understand what we’re talking about. I can understand you and you can understand me. The different verb tenses tell us when something happened. The order the words come in (English, being a word-order language) tells us who does what to whom. Apostrophes clarify things–They’re sounds like their or there, but it sure doesn’t mean the same thing. When you leave out all the punctuation, it makes it hard to tell what you are trying to say. That old “Eats, shoots, and leaves,” conundrum. Or “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Mother Theresa.”

Why am I whining about grammar today?

One of my tasks at the newspaper dayjob is to put letters to the editor in the system. This means not just copying, pasting and formatting it to the AP style. I also have to clean up the grammar, and sometimes, try to figure out what it is the person is trying to say.

About half the letter writers are clear and concise in what they’re trying to say, and correct in the way they are saying it. The other half…not so much.

It’s not that I don’t agree with what they’re saying–I tend to disagree as often with the grammatically correct writers as with the ungrammatical ones. And actually, the letters that wander all over the place and don’t seem to have a point–or one they actually reach–are sometimes grammatical. More often, however, I’m left struggling to figure out what they’re trying to say, and just where I ought to put the periods and commas.

There are the folks who leave out every bit of punctuation altogether, and those who throw in periods and commas at random. I often have to remove excess exclamation pointage. The newspaper won’t let you have more than one. And sometimes the copy editors take those out. (I don’t.) As for apostrophes–those tend to be pretty random too. I had one letter recently in which every word with an “S” on the end of it got an apostrophe. (Or a “comma to the top” as some have put it.) So we had toe’s and book’s and kudo’s and top’s.

Then there are the annoyances that have slipped through from e-mail. We get the majority of our letters to the editor via e-mail these days, which really is convenient. We can copy, paste and edit, rather than having to type the whole thing in. However, those e-mail-isms remain. People leave out the articles–“the” and “an” and the like, which I then have to put back in. They use all caps for emphasis.

Sweetie, if you can’t use emphatic verbs and nouns, you’re sunk, because the newspaper isn’t going to leave those all-caps words in. In fact, if you do excessive regular title-style capitalization, I’m gonna take it all out. And it’s a pain to go through and lowercase all those words. A serious, major pain.

So, some of my whining is due to actual grammar issues. Some of it is due to newspaper style issues. I just wish people would realize that writing for publication isn’t the same as writing an e-mail. Sigh.

And I really, really wish I could leave in all the misspellings (House of Represintatives!) and bad grammar (count your toe’s!) to illustrate just what idiots some of these idiotic letters come from. But I can’t. Sigh.

In other news, there are ruddy turnstones on the beach. I usually see them earlier in the year than this, but I’ve been late getting back out on the beach. I also saw a pair of laughing gulls courting. The males and females look exactly alike, except the males are slightly smaller. The male was following the aloof-looking female around, touching her beak and giving off a periodic squawk–er, plea. He looked pretty dandified and worthy to me, but what do I know from hot-looking seagulls?

Their beaks were Very orange–the others had more blackish beaks. Makes me wonder if, besides getting sleek black heads during the courtship season, the laughing gulls get bright orange-red beaks… Have to look it up.

In other news, I got my car washed, finally. YAY! It was so very, very dirty, given that I had parked it on the seawall where it picked up a sticky salt film, and then drove it down a dry caliche road where all those billows of white dust stuck to the salt. And then it got rained on. Not enough to wash off the dust, but enough to streak and spot it. I drive an SUV that’s really about an SUV and a half–the guys told me $40 to clean it, and were going to stick to that price, but go up if I had it washed again–I gave them $50 anyway, because it is so big and was soooo dirty. I knew it was nasty. But now it is CLEAN. :)

And no, I haven’t written anything this week, yet. Sigh. But I think I’ve decided which scene needs to come next, and to leave out the one I was thinking about. It was probably good that I let it ride, so I could let the swamp have the story and figure out whether or not I really needed that scene. The story will work better without it, and it will get me closer to the end sooner. So.

I may have to drag myself off by the neck tomorrow…

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