Excerpt of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande
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A Snob for All Seasons
Grammar snobs come in two forms: amateur and pro. Amateur
grammar snobs are a lot like amateur gynecologists
they're everywhere, they're all too eager to offer their
and they're anything but gentle. They include the guy at the
party who says, "From where did you get the recipe for this
torte?" and the girl who likes to point out your dangler and
laugh, and the old biddy who was beside herself with malicious
glee the time I accidentally wrote "old bitty."
These people are scary enough, but what's worse is that
there also exists a whole crop of cranks who actually make a
living at being meanies.
Meet James Kilpatrick, syndicated columnist and grammar
grouch extraordinaire. Kilpatrick is a guy who actually writes
stuff like, "It is time, once again, for propounding a paean to
the period. Heavenly dot! Divine orb! Precious pea of
Let us pray for their unceasing employment!"
I shtick you not. This was the opening paragraph of Kilpatrick's
November 1, 2004, "The Writer's Art" column.
In Kilpatrick's defense I should say: He's half kidding. In
my defense I should say: He's half serious. Sure, he's using
over-the-top, punctuation-drunk terms to exaggerate his love
for the period, but I can assure you that he didn't just pull
stuff out of his Underwood. No, this linguo-erotic rant bubbled
up from some dark place deep within, carrying with it a
large red flag alerting normal people to the state of this guy's
In his flowery spiel, Kilpatrick displays one of the most
classic signs of grammar snobbery and an important thing for
the rest of us to note. You see, as much as we tend to think of
language snobs as frothy-mouthed meanies who spew bitterness
day and night, in reality the meanies aren't cranky all the
time. Sometimes they can be downright chipper.
That's when they're really scary.
Unlike normal people who get giddy about things like love,
sex, money, free beer, and classic REO Speedwagon, these guys
have the hots for things like punctuation marks and syntax rules
and the excavation of lost words that were lost for a reason.
Like a lot of "happy" drunks, these people can turn on you
in an instant, transforming from Jekyll-like, playful nerds into
bloodthirsty grammar Hydes. Think I'm exaggerating? Then
compare the above Kilpatrick excerpt to what immediately
"Why this unseemly ruckus?" Kilpatrick continued. "I shall
explainregretfully explain. On October 4,
The New Yorker
magazine carried 1,500 words of truly abominable editing. The
piece was a think-piece of little thought. It started nowhere,
went nowhere and arrived at no interesting destination."
Seinfeld characters put
it when they tried to imitate a
vicious catfight: "Reer!"
His venom was just to make the point that very long sentences
are bad and that periods can make them shorter. I suppose
that, in the interest of filling up blank paper, Kilpatrick
had to milk the idea for all the words he could get, but in the
process, you can't deny that he brings a whole new meaning to
the term "to be on one's period."
William Safire, author of the "On Language" column in
York Times Magazine,
does a better job of keeping
bipolarity in check. But upon closer inspection, it's clear that
he has quite bit in common with his colleagues.
In his December 12, 2004, column Safire describes himself
as an "excruciating curmudgeon" and then goes on to demonstrate.
In the same column, he high-fives author and fellow
language meanie Robert Hartwell Fiske by proudly describing
Fiske's and his own readers like this: "Our audience is composed
of (not comprised of ) people who get a delicious kick
out of getting incensed at loosey-goosey language."
Excerpted from Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. Copyright 2006 by June Casagrande. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.