National Grammar Day

Yesterday was National Grammar Day, which probably explains all the fireworks and horn honking last night. It is the day when we say hooray for Martha Brockenbrough. She was the founder of SPOGG (the Society for the Promotion Of Good Grammar). To be literal, the acronym should have been TSFTPOGG, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.

Martha and SPOGG got National Grammar Day established in 2008. President George W. Bush sent out a letter extolling the day, which is a little bit funny, given his tenuous connection to the language. A laugh riot would have been ex-President Trump doing the same. He wouldn’t know his grammar if she slapped him in the face.

I celebrated at our house yesterday by correcting Pat’s grammar once, which didn’t get us in a very festive mood. How can a guy be right and still be terribly wrong at the same time? That should have been in the dumb questions blog.

Grammar used to be part of one of my jobs. I was a Deputy Secretary of State in charge of Administrative Rules and Notaries Public. I can visualize you turning green with envy.

Debra was the Rules Queen and Cinda was the Rules Princess back then. I was their nominal supervisor. They would have wonderful arguments with each other about grammar and would occasionally include me since I am an English major. One of my daughters gave me a t-shirt that read “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I couldn’t wear it at work, because the job of Administrative Rules was to correct the grammar of every other state agency proposing rules, and we weren’t silent about it. We should have had t-shirts reading “Administrative Rules Rules.” Sometimes Debra and Cinda would correct the posters that others put up at work.

I don’t think they ever explicitly told agencies “Whenever you make a plural by using an apostrophe, a puppy dies,” but they talked about doing it.

You may not think I know grammar because the Friday Good News contains so many grammatical mistakes. Especially sentence fragments. Or beginning a sentence with “or.” It’s on purpose, I tell you, in order to sound like speech rather than writing. (The speech of a person who doesn’t know grammar.)

It’s not that I don’t know better. My mother corrected us children frequently and taught us all the correct use of the tenses of “lie” and “lay,” and to not split infinitives. Oops.  I still try to observe the “Oxford comma,” which is the second comma in a series of three items. The comma after puppies in the sentence “The bag held bunnies, puppies, and alligators” is the Oxford comma. Don’t tell me you didn’t know that. You’re just pulling my leg now.

On Grammar Day, grade-schoolers chant, “Let’s eat, grandma. Grammar saves lives.” The higher grades chant, “A simile is like a metaphor.”

My mother would approve of elevating the discourse. My father’s grammar was fair, because it had to be. Granted, he talked about the boy in his geometry class studying the area of a circle. When asked to explain what A= πr² means (for us English types, that’s pronounced “A equals pie r squared”), the boy replied, “That means the equation is wrong. Pie are round. Cake are squared.” That joke is as old as pie, cake, and grammar. Did you notice the proper use of the Oxford comma in that last sentence? No? Do I have to send my mother to your house?

That takes us far afield from the main point. The erosion of good grammar is responsible for accelerating hard drug use, the refusal to wear masks, climate change, and the erosion of democracy in the US. By the way, the comma after the Oxford comma in that previous sentence is called the Rocky Mountain College comma. See, you’ve learned something already.

Grammar is a set of conventions on which all the educated speakers of a language agree. It governs our linguistic endeavors, which in turn control our ability to think. Once the grammatical structures of a society start slipping, anything goes. If we the people can’t use the various tenses of “lie” and “lay” properly, is it any wonder that falsehoods and sexual innuendo pervade every part of the media. You may need to read that last sentence again.

Did you know that good grammarians believe that Donald Trump’s inability to speak or write correctly presaged all the other ills of the last four years? I just made that up, but it’s probably true.

Now that we know whom to blame and why, I hope you won’t be asking me to sign a good-grammar pledge to keep me from trashing up the Friday Good News in my vain attempt to appear to be one of the masses. Ain’t gonna happen. The only people who really appreciate bad grammar are those of us who know most of the rules and can relish when we violate them. Not to mention my mother, who will not like being included in this sentence fragment, nor in the implication that she ever deliberately used bad grammar unless she were acting in a play. She would do it, but she wouldn’t like it.

But, you can’t blame me for everything from climate change to apathy about defeating lying politicians because of my shady grammar. I know what’s right. Mostly, but just don’t do it. Oops. I suppose that’s what most of us say about everything wrong with our country.

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Rusty Harper is outrageously happy because he is retired and living with the love of his life, Pat Callbeck Harper in Helena, Montana. So why does he inflict these ramblings on the rest of us, you ask? Because you deserve it. If you aren't smart enough not to read this stuff, then you have to suffer through it. Maybe that builds character, though I doubt it. Think of all the positive things you could do with the time you are wasting on things that occur to me in the night and then sound strange even to me when I write them down in the morning. Bake a cake. Complain to your Senator. Run for Congress. Do something.
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