Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Problem with Grammar

I stink at grammar. As a writer this puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage! And the problem with grammar is that there are all these RULES.

But I've managed to overcome my complete suckitude (I excel at using new words not yet found in Webster's). I found just what I needed.

The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. (8.173 Headline Style)

After I purchased Chicago, I realized I knew less about other writing stuff too. Grammar (Chapter 5) is only a fraction of the information in the manual. So, when I'm not sure of the correct treatment for everything from ellipses to whether or not to spell out the number fifteen, I whip out my big orange reference book and set to research. I haven't been disappointed yet.

There are rules upon rules upon rules (enough to make my brain hurt!). The Chicago addresses over 2300 (9.3 Chicago's general rule on Numerals or Words) points. Yes, I added them up after skimming my manual in preparation for this post. However, I was continually struck by one singular thought...who makes up this stuff?

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to all the tyrants, uh, dedicated professionals who define these rules. Me? I'd rather just write. Then when I'm all done, I consult my Chicago and make sure I've constructed my sentences right.


ps. I'll leave you with this one last rule....

Rule 7.69 Rhyme Scheme
Lower case italic letters, with no space between, are used to indicate rhyme schemes or similar patterns.

The Shakespearean sonnets' Rhyme Scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, ggg. I'm pretty sure good ol' Will wsn't lying (laying-I cannot get this one right) around thinking, "I'd better italicize in lower case letters to explain to the masses how I rhyme."


quantumtea said...

I had to study Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales for school (in the original Middle English text) and back then, they hadn't even invented consistent spelling, let alone grammar. Chaucer would spell the same word two different ways on the same page and get away with it.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I've always been secretly proud that the definitive manual of style comes from chicago. where I once lived. so i totally have something to do with it, or something :)

Lisa Hughey said...

Then you have to wonder...were those spelling changes intentional-some hidden meaning in the deliberate use of y rather than i? Or was he just inconsistent? :)

Rachael Herron said...

That's one I don't have.... Must get it sometime! And then I'll put it away and be too lazy to pull it out! Yippee! :)

L.G.C. Smith said...

That's a good question about whether Chaucer varied his spellings intentionally. I don't know. Maybe the alternation represented dialect differences among his characters? Not necessarily, though. Spelling standards in English came much later.

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Hard Boiled Mysti said...

chicago manual of style is online! A little harder to search, but I use it every frikkin' day at work:


And yes, Chaucer and Shakespeare spelled all kinds of things in a delightful variety of ways. Even his name, if I remember my Shakespeare lore correctly...

There are two sources for "grammar" rules: prescriptive rules, the things that people say the language *should* do (irregular verb declension, that whole lie/lay/laid/lain thang), sometimes in error (you can indeed end some sentences with prepositions, for example). Then there are the *real* rules, how the language actually functions when spoken, as studied by folks who study syntax. They can be quite different, especially across different dialects of the language.

We understand these structures without even thinking about them, so don't ever beat yourself up for not being able to remember a "prescriptive" rule!!!

Lisa Hughey said...

thanks for the online link! Here's just a fun fact: I stunk at French grammar too. :)