Sometimes I’d rather not know how to do something properly.

I’ve started a new workout … uh … I was going to say routine, but that sounds like I’m trying some new dance steps. A new workout plan, I guess. It involves doing a lot of work with dumbbells and barbells and the various benches in the free weight section of the gym. I’ve always been a bit intimidated to workout in that room with the guys who’ve made fitness a hobby. Me, I’m just trying to lose a little weight.

I do my homework before each new workout. (They vary quite a bit to keep from boredom setting in.) I save various exercises in a YouTube playlist that I can access during my workout. Most of the time I feel like my form is all wrong and that I’m not breathing correctly. Sometimes I even have to remind myself to breathe. I’d really hate to keel over in the free weight room.  Really, I just feel like I’m thinking too much and my movements are all rigid.

I’ve learned over the years with music that when I start to think too much my playing becomes rigid. I get stuck in the technique and the art gets buried amid proper fingering. The same is true in other areas of life.

I used to listen to a podcast called Grammar Girl. In the brief episodes, the host would tackle various grammar rules and would offer tricks for writers who want to write correctly. I stopped listening, partly because I tired of hearing about all the rules, not because I didn’t want to write properly but because I found myself editing my own speech. Even worse, other people’s. I’d find myself in conversation no longer listening but evaluating and, quite frequently, wincing.

Here are some of the things I run across in regular, everyday conversation that when I hear them I clamp down on my tongue.

FURTHER VS. FARTHER

I’ve actually come upon the misuse of farther in a couple books. Grammar Girl’s tip for the distinction of use is that farther is normally used to describe physical distance (he ran farther than he did yesterday), whereas further is typically metaphorical (she fell further behind in her studies). Honestly, you could flip these around and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’ve come to like further as metaphorical only. 

WHILE INSTEAD OF ALTHOUGH

This is like further/farther in that it’s not a terrible grammar breach. While is normally used pertaining to time (he listened to the radio while he ran), but I’ve been hearing it in place of a better option like although (while he prefers Chinese food, they ate Italian because she likes pasta). Again, Grammar Girl doesn’t like that usage, and because of that one episode, I don’t care much for it either. There are other stronger options: (1) despite his preference for Chinese or (2) even though he likes Chinese. We don’t do this in speech enough, but in writing we should mix up our words so as not to bore our readers. (I hope I do this enough.)

OFTEN VS. OFTEN??

This isn’t a grammar related pet peave but one related to pronounciation. When I was in college, the music department produced a musical revue called Cole!, which fittingly featured the music of Cole Porter. During one of the company numbers, the ensemble sang the word often. I remember a rehearsal when the vocal director — I served as assistant vocal director — was aghast out our collective pronounciation, which kept the ‘t’: AW-ftuhn. He was convinced the correct prounounciation omitted the ‘t’: AW-fuhn. We looked it up and discovered either pronunciation is acceptable, but to this day, I’ve omitted the ‘t’ and shudder whenever anyone else doesn’t. I know, I’m a jerk.

SINGULAR –> PLURAL

This used to drive me crazy, but I’ve come to accept it in everyday speech, though lately I’ve been seeing it in writing — and even in my own!! This rule refers to the dropping of gender in speech. Rarely do you see his or her in writing, and rarer still is it employed in speech. To move away from the awkward his or her, most people switch to a plural pronoun. This has become standard: If someone wants to order sooner, they should move to that line. They as plural is technically incorrectly matched with someone, but we say it all the time because his or her is stilted. I’m not sure how the grammar geeks feel about this development (or regression), but it’s unlikely to change. (By the way, it used to be that the masogonistic his/he would be used: If someone wants to order sooner, he should move to that line.) I try to avoid this altogether in my writing and rephrase my words to fit singular or plural.

… AND I

[pullquote]You wouldn’t say … She went with I.[/pullquote]I gnaw on my tongue when I hear this, and I hear it all the time. Most people think they’re being grammatically correct by saying something like my friend and I, but more often than not they’re wrong. That’s because it really only works when that short phrase is used as a subject followed typically by a verb. This is wrong: She went with my friend and I. It should be: She went with my friend and me. The basic rule of thumb is to drop the first part and see if I works. You wouldn’t say: She went with I. But you would say: My friend and I went with her. Oh, and there is never I’s, as in my wife and I’s house. How I bristle!

I imagine ignorance, as they say, would be bliss. Instead, I walk around drawing invisible squigglies like Microsoft Office’s grammar check. Proper form at the gym would render better results. Proper form in speech might make a grammar nerd like myself happy — I own a book called Dos, Don’ts and Maybes of the English Language — but who really cares? 

Maybe you, if you made it to the end of this post.

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2 thoughts on “Drawing Invisible Squigglies

  1. I care. That “my friend and I” thing drives me insane! You know, the Kardashians say it incorrectly all the time. Ha! The ‘t’ in often? I keep saying it with the ‘t’ and without the ‘t’ to understand the difference. I wonder if it has to do with locale? The ‘t’ is pronounced in my often.

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  2. I finished reading it, so deep down I care. My mother has never stopped teaching me English, so I am always careful around her. When I wrote regularly I almost took the rebellious, ignorant stand, as I didn’t want to hate writing. I realize the foolishness, but I didn’t change.  (shaking my head)   You are a gifted writer, for sure, and I enjoy your writing. Like Shannon, the ‘t’ is pronounced in my often.

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