Friday, March 12, 2010

The Real Grammar of Westchester County

Today's guest is Maggie Barbieri, who writes the Murder 101 mysteries for St. Martin's/Minotaur about a crime-fighting female English professor at a cushy New England college. The series has been optioned for TV, and her latest is FINAL EXAM. Maggie is a freelance textbook editor by day, which makes her a perfect candidate to discuss grammar!

We haven't met Maggie in person yet, but we already know we're going to love her. For one thing, her favorite quote is one of ours too: "The only way out is through." And for another - well, just read this post; this woman is awesome!!

First, a great big shout-out to my friends here at Pens Fatales for asking me to guest blog today. I’m thrilled to part of such an illustrious group of women. When Sophie and I corresponded about my doing a guest post, she gave me a couple of options for topics. None gave me more of a thrill than “grammar.” Why, you ask? Well, by day, I’m an editor.

I stay up at night thinking about things like dangling participles and split infinitives. And overactive bladders and George Clooney. But that’s a story for another time.

In other words, grammar excites me. And I have to say that I’m a bit of a grammar snob, which is the reason I’d like to subject you, poor readers, to my feelings about words and how they are used.

Actually, I didn’t realize how much I knew about grammar until I became a regular viewer of reality television.

Pray tell, you’re probably asking yourself, how in the heck is she going to relate reality television to grammar? Stay put and I’ll tell you.

One of my favorite parts of reality television? The “confessionals.” (And before you get your panties in a wad, yes, I realize that the two half-sentences (no verbs allowed) are not grammatically correct. I was going for the laugh. Did it work?) There, I find, you’re getting the unvarnished truth about some of the “people” (and in some cases, I use that term loosely) who participate on the Real World, The Real Housewives of This or That City/County/State/Plastic Surgeon’s Office, Big Brother, Survivor, and a host of other shows about supposedly “real” people in “real” situations. As if. Although I was a sucker at first, it didn’t take me long to realize that cameramen weren’t following these people around 24/7 capturing their every thought and action. Some of the action is actually scripted, which makes sense, I guess. I thought about what I do in a day and realized it’s pretty darn boring. Sleep-inducing, really. I think I’ll go take a nap…

…Ok, I’m back. What were talking about? Oh, right. Confessionals on reality television shows. In these so-called confessionals (I was raised Catholic…I know from confessionals and these are not confessionals), people discuss other people, explain their actions, and give their impressions on all of the hilarity and mayhem that ensues in their “real” lives. If only one or more of them would learn to use pronouns correctly.

“So, you see, she and me went to the store to find our next clue.” I’m sorry, Amazing Racer, it’s “she and I.” Go back to the Pit Stop and do not pass “go.”

“I don’t know why Vicky cares about Simon and I.” Oh, poor “hot housewife,” it’s “Simon and me.” Don’t try to sound smarter than you are. It makes I sad.

“Her and me have a lot of stuff to work out.” I’ll say. You do have a lot of stuff to work out, not the least of which is your grasp of simple, fourth-grade grammatical constructions, you hairy-pitted, bikini-wearing, tribal council-attending Survivor contestant.

“I’m sorry I spoke harsh.” I’m sorry, too. Get a clue and get an adverb. Right now.

“If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” Oh, sorry. That’s me. I just like the way that sounds.

We need grammar—and less reality television. That is my rallying cry. A few years back, my children’s elementary school decided that “everyone’s a writer.” Guess what? They’re not. Just like everyone’s not a mathematician and everyone is not a scientist. (I’m certainly not a hair colorist…just ask the lady who sat behind me on the train last week staring at the giant white spot on the crown of my head. What? It’s hard to reach.) Although this was proclaimed loudly and often throughout our time at the elementary school, not once did the school administrators hand out a spelling primer or a grammar workbook to this group of burgeoning Chekhovs. No, the children were going to focus on their “personal reflections.” If I had a dime for every time my kids came home and told me they had to write about their feelings, well, I would be wearing those brand-new patent leather Dansko clogs I desire rather than staring at them on a bookmarked page on my computer. What we have wrought, instead of a new generation of writers, is a group of children will grow up to be saying “Him and I” on a reality television show where they will talk about their feelings ad nauseam for viewers like me, who lap up every single ungrammatical thing they will have to say.

Reality television and grammar: you didn’t think I’d be able to do it, did you?


juliet blackwell said...

Hello Maggie! Welcome to the Pens! I love the connection between reality TV and that I know what I'm missing, I'm going to have to start watching those "candid interviews" just for fun.

sophie littlefield said...

maggie, you are such a delicious mix of smart and snarky...we are going to get along sooo fine!!!

Sue said...

At my sons elementary school they used "best guess" spelling. He's now a senior and still guessing.

Love the clogs.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Thanks for the spirited and funny post!!!!

Falsely elevated diction is one of my favorite things to bust people for in their writing.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't bother with case in pronouns? Or got rid of the requirement to have them like in well-formed sentences like Japanese?

I remember someone who told me that grammar standards (and standardized spelling) are a tool of colonialists bent on demeaning the populations they enslave. Then I remembered that tools aren't evil, people are. Which is why I write crime, I guess :)

Rachael Herron said...

Now I want a reality TV show about grammar. Think about the possibilities! (I'm serious...)

Lisa Hughey said...

Thanks for visiting! Loved this. I tend to notice the incorrect non-use of adverbs. It happens A LOT. Maybe because as writers we're continually admonished not to have too many in our work :) :) but many people seem to be forgetting their -ly's when speaking.

The Stiletto Gang said...

Ladies, you are the best! Thanks for having I on the panel today. You and me will all get along greatly. Now, back to writing and talking to my dog...oh, and dreaming about new clogs. Best--Maggie