So today is National Grammar Day! Over at the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, they’re passing the grammartinis around.
I love the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. I love any organization that encourages people to put commas in the right place and celebrates a well-constructed compound-complex sentence. Especially in this day of text messages, where so many are in such a hurry they don’t even bother to capitalize “I” or write out “you.” I worry, I guess, that they’ll forget. I worry that, over time, no one will remember what the rules are, and they’ll abandon them altogether. And there’s such a beauty and art to beautiful sentences — I’d hate for people to lose that.
So let’s celebrate today by going out there and making one sentence better! We can probably start with some song lyrics. Maybe we can lend a hand to Neil Diamond. He seems to have some grammar challenges. Like this one: “…Song, she sang to me/ Song, she brang to me.” … Brang, Neil? Really? I know you would have needed to rewrite the entire line, but I can’t even sing along with that one. It’s just too painful.
Or maybe we can help Mr. Justin Timberlake. His song “What Goes Around” features this classic line: “When you cheated girl/ My heart bleeded girl.” Bleeded, Justin? C’mon. Did you just make that up? “Bled” does rhyme with “dead” — maybe we could have played around with that a little?
Or maybe we can help Joan Osborne. I was always frustrated at her song “One of Us,” where she sings (over and over again), “What if God was one of us…” If you respect the almost-forgotten subjunctive, it really should be “What if God were one of us.” The subjunctive sounds so gorgeous to me. It’s used commonly in Spanish but, unfortunately, it’s been dropped almost entirely in English. It’s used when something hasn’t actually happened (when you’re wishing or hoping or wondering), so, to me, it denotes an almost dreamlike state. I wish it were used more often.
So let’s celebrate! Throw some song lyrics my way! We’ll celebrate National Grammar Day together!
Maybe we can get our pictures tooken, too, at National Grammar Day. I do transcription for a living and I still have trouble with run on sentences and where in the heck do you put the commas. I even took a grammar class in college and was good enough to be asked to be a tutor, but I could not diagram a sentence now to save my soul.
I have always like the word gerund. It sounds like a cute little rodent.
Rolling stones “can’t get no satisfaction” and then the needed cover by DEVO with the important addition “can’t get ME no satisfaction”
I know those are kind of weak, but I am now on a mission and will report back anon!
OK, I don’t have any song lyrics, but in honor of the day and in the spirit of things, I’d like everyone in world to know that the period goes INSIDE the quotation marks.
And can the whole world please learn the difference between an apostophe and a single quote? When your pluralize your family’s last name, you don’t use an apostrophe! And use an apostrophe for the year ’09 and ’80s, not a single quote!
OK – I got it all out. Sort of. Maybe we should have National Punctuation Day also. If I had money to burn, I would take out a full-page ad in the New York Times and give everyone a big lesson in punctuation. And then everyone would hate me, but maybe then we would be nostalgic about the ’70s, not the 70’s, and I’d get a card from the Smiths, not the Smith’s. And I’d read that the girl said, “He was sad.” rather than “…sad”.
And why do people just — out of nowhere — capitalize words in the middle of sentences that aren’t proper nouns? I digress…
There are two songs I can’t stand listening to purely due to grammatical gaffes:
1. “In the Wee Small Hours”
Hello, redundancy. Since it’s both the title and the first line, I can’t even stomach the first few stanzas.
2. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” always keeps me on tenterhooks because I don’t know if the artist is going to say “…all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names…” or the perversely and pervasively misused “reindeers” (I’m talking to you, Jack Johnson and Michael Jackson!) Sure, we have heard very young children make this mistake and maybe some people have even found it cute. However, when a person is past kindergarten we expect him to know that the plural of “deer” isn’t “deers.” It really cramps my style when I’m cruising supermarket aisles or mall shopping during the holidays. I have to mentally and sometimes physically brace myself for it. By the time I recover, I’m out of the “zone.”
Kat — Yes, getting pics tooken would fit right in! ; ) A rodent, huh?
Chris — Ah, yes, DEVO’s addition was important. That “me” really improved things,eh?
Grace — Ah, there are the editors I’ve known and loved all my life! I’m glad you got some of that out. The weird German-style capping (in English!) always perplexes me, too. But the punctuation inside the quotes is (I believe) an Americanism, so you can tell the country, but not the world. : ) I think England does that the opposite way.
Marla — I cracked up at your examples! I could just picture you waiting, there by the peanut butter aisle, with your shoulders tensed, to hear what the artist was going to say. So funny! Great examples!
I get irritated every time I hear Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” which contains the lyric, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” The subordinate conjunction “where” should be preceded by a place, which an American clearly is not. Greenwood could have avoided this problem, without disrupting the meter, by singing, “I’m proud to be an American, because at least I know I’m free.” Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any changing it at this point.
This is getting pretty esoteric, but an Elvis Presley song called “Baby, Let’s Play House” contains the lyric, “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man.” It’s clear what he’s trying to say, but the wording suggests that he’s deciding between offing his girlfriend and having an “alternative” relationship with another guy.
Incidentally, The Beatles used same sentence as the first line of “Run for Your Life” on the album “Rubber Soul.”
Those are great, Bill! I think I like your lyrics to Greenwood’s song better … hmmmm … maybe I’ll sing yours instead! : ) (loudly!) And even though the Elvis song seems esoteric, isn’t it weird how you know it’s going to bug you when you hear it? That’s how I feel with Neil Diamond. I just hear the first few notes and I think, oh, gosh, this is the song with the terrible grammar …
We editors are a weirdly wired lot, eh?
Btw, thanks for the uber-cool Beatles/Elvis trivia!
Bill, thanks for mentioning the “proud to be an American” lyric. That has always bugged me, and it was particularly irksome when it was played at my husband’s naturalization ceremony.
At the time, all I could think was, “Well, I guess all these new Americans might as well know straight off that natives can’t speak the language!”
BTW, you inspired me to start my own WordPress blog! I think you can get to it by clicking my name or image above.
Hey, Bill, that’s great! I’m glad you’re starting a blog! I’ll tap in and read often!
There is this one verse from “LA Woman” (The Doors) that stands out to me. Lyrics:
If they say I never loved you/
You know they are a liar.
It’s funny you mentioned the Justin Timberlake song because I thought of that one too. I always thought he said, “My heart beat it girl.” I can’t believe all this time it was “My heart bleeded girl.” Wowsers, that’s hard.
I suddenly remembered another one this morning. Country singer Collin Raye has an otherwise beautiful song called “Love Me,” which is unfortunately marred by a misplaced modifier:
“I read those words just hours before/
My grandma passed away/
In the doorway of a church/
Where me and Grandpa stopped to pray.”
Even overlooking the obvious “me and Grandpa” error, the sentence makes it sounds as though Grandma died right there in the church entrance.
“makes it sounds” … ugh.
That’s a hilarious misplaced modifer, Bill! Oh my gosh, it does sound like poor Grandma just gave up, right there in the doorway!
Jen — Oooh, “…they are a liar…”? Ouch. That’s a good one!
Isn’t it weird how we sing along to some of these with no thought to it, but some will just sound soooooo wrong, we can’t even bring ourselves to hum it?!?!?!