A Snob for All Seasons Shared Possessives
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 punctuation! 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 this 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 inky soul.
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 followed. "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."
As the 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 the New 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." Yuck.
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.
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