Getting Back to Active (Voice)

volcano“It’s back to work that I want to go,” Grammar Smith said.

“Lieutenant, you are still suffering the effects of your deep undercover assignment,” Dr. Query said.  “You helped save the world but at great personal cost. You just don’t come back from that very quickly.”

“I’ve been working really hard at it, though. I really think I’m ready.”

“Yes, you’ve made great progress. However, I think you need a little more time.”

“But we just stopped a major passive voice outbreak. There’s still work to be done,” Grammar pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” Dr.Query said. “You’re just not quite ready.”

Will Grammar Smith be able to detox from passive voice? Will she be able to get back to actively fight against English language abuses? Will Dis Connect ever stop eating doughnuts?

Stay tuned…

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Act Now to Save the Sun

eclipse gifDetective Dis Connect was worried. He hadn’t heard from Lieutenant Grammar Smith in two weeks. Smith was deep undercover pursuing Peter Passive  and his group of energy sappers.

Things were getting dire. Passive’s network of followers had grown to critical mass. Their ennui was starting to affect the world, maybe even the universe. Experts reported that the lack of active voice was starting to influence the sun. Things were going to turn dark, very dark. People needed to avoid the passive voice.

Grammar was supposed to contact Dis with the location of Passive’s largest group of disciples. The Department of English Language Offenses could then take action.

Dis hadn’t heard a peep from her.

Riinnnnng! Riinnnggg!

This was it.

“Hello,” Dis answered.

“Peter Passive’s group was infiltrated by me,” Grammar said.

“Where are you?”

“The location is unknown by me.”

“Grammar, why are you talking so funny?”

“It is the sun that is the target. Light will be blocked by the group’s inertia.”

“Grammar, come in from the cold!” Dis was desperately concerned. “You’re starting to become one of them!”

“Texts, tweets, and posts in active voice must be sent out immediately by grammar geeks everywhere. Saving our world can only be done this way.”

“Grammar! Where are you? I’ll come get you.”

“The forces of active voice must be sent out today by grammar geeks. You must unite them!”

The line suddenly went dead.

As worried as he was about Grammar, Dis had more important things to do.

Sergeant Metaphor came running into the squad room as Dis hung up on his first call to Grammar Geeks of the World.

“Det. Connect! Look out the window. The sun! It’s starting to go dark.”

Would Dis’s efforts be too late? Will Grammar be able to escape the lethargy Peter Passive had trapped her in? Would the Grammar Geeks of the world be able to pump out enough active voice sentences to save the planet?

Do your bit. Bring back the sun.

The Lurking ‘Also’

Lurking-Adverb-Also

“It keeps popping up, and I don’t know why it’s there!”

Grammar Smith really didn’t want to start her Monday morning with a paranoid Maven Syntassein.

“Okay, Maven, what’s the problem today?”

“It’s ‘also’! It keeps showing up everywhere. Sure, it’s not like it’s wrong for it to be there, but I just can’t shake the feeling I’m being stalked.”

Grammar turned to her computer, brought up a complaint form, and [also] started filling it in.

“Can you describe the incidents for me?” Grammar took a sip of her morning coffee.

“Well, ‘also’ seems to tag along with ‘and’ far too much for my taste.”

Maven gave three examples:

  • He had dinner, dessert and also a glass of port.
  • She was head of Markitup Corporation, and also she held a degree in ergonomic engineering.
  • The group traveled to Italy, Austria, and also the Czech Republic.

“It does seem to be annoyingly present where there is no need for it, but ‘also’ isn’t doing anything illegal,” Grammar pointed out.

“But those aren’t the only situations! ‘Also’ shows up with ‘not only…but,’ too.”

Grammar typed in the three examples Maven gave her:

  • Not only were the verbs boring, but they were also in the wrong tense.
  • He had not only rushed into the room, but also tracked mud on the Persian rug.
  • It was not only redundant but also irritating.

“Maven, not only is it legal for ‘also’ to be there, it is [also] very difficult with these examples to make a case for stalking.”

Maven glanced nervously around the room, licked her lips, and [also] tightened her grip on her laptop.

“But it’s everywhere!

“Our hands are tied,” Grammar explained, “but I’ll see if our patrol squads can be more visible. Maybe that will keep ‘also’ from showing up so much.”

Maven left, grateful for that little bit of assurance. Grammar didn’t see where it would make much difference.

She finished her now cold coffee and [also] turned the verb tense cases that were more pressing.

Pursuing Prep. Phrase Perps

Prepositional Phrase mug shot

Grammar Smith had had a long day and an even longer night. All she wanted was a nice glass of Chardonnay and to go to bed. But she was still directing the roundup of the Prepositional Phrase Gang going on by the Department of English Language Offenses.

Grammar sighed and rubbed her eyes. The Prepositional Phrases were members of one of those families every community has: for the most part law abiding but with one large branch that can be depended upon to cause trouble.

In most cases, the PPs stirred up disagreement between Subjects and Verbs (which had problems getting along much of the time anyway). Throw PPs between them, and it all turns into a hopeless mess.

She looked at the operations file before her.

A couple of weeks ago at the Hunt and Peck, a Subject and Verb were at the bar, perfectly agreeable, when a Prepositional Phrase got between them and mixed things up. It pretty much spread like wildfire from there.

Grammar flipped through the reports.

The flower [subject] among the weeds {prepositional phrase} were blooming [verb].

Gusts [subj.] of frigid air {pp} chills [v] the nose.

The rays [subj.] of the alien gun {pp} spreads [v] and kills [v] quickly.

Each [subj.] of the criminals {pp} were [v] repeat offenders.

Of course, the longer things went on, the worse they got.  The DELO raids were trying to stop an epidemic.

Grammar was sipping on a cup of mud passing itself off as coffee when Det. Dis Connect radioed in.

“We’re in Tense City, and we’re having a hard time tracking down the ringleaders,” Dis said.

Wally Wordorder, head of the Fugitive Syntax Squad and with his own mug of mud in hand, knew the apartment complex well.

“Check out the Third Person Present Tense area,” he radioed back. “That’s usually where they hang out.”

“Will do!”

By early afternoon, the stream of Prepositional Phrases being charged and processed had slowed to a trickle. Grammar, Dis, and Wally walked into the bright sunshine heading for home and knowing that, in another few months, they would likely have to do it all again.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

horseshoe-handgrenade-pen-target

As I read The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay, I’m struck by the universal expectation of speed and accuracy that the code breakers constantly labored under.

There was no other choice. The quickness and precision of their work were truly matters of life and death.

“Close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades” is an indication of how much society values accuracy.

We demand it in our health care, in business, in science, and in mathematics. We get upset (rightfully so) when someone bills us incorrectly or makes a mistake in our bank accounts.

Why, then, are we complacent about inaccuracies in written communication?

I’m not just talking about inaccuracies in word use or grammar. Those can be very irritating and cause misunderstanding – yes. But, a dedicated reader will go back and translate the meaning (although they shouldn’t have to).

What worries me is when writers offer something as a statement of fact when it may just be conjecture or rumor. Worse is saying something that is downright wrong without having checked first.

“What’s the harm?” you ask.

The most glaring example I can think of is the initial coverage of the December 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  Credible news agencies reported, with “unnamed sources” as the basis, that Ryan Lanza, instead of his brother Adam, was the shooter.

In fact, Ryan was nowhere near Connecticut. Can you imagine how his neighbors, coworkers, and friends would have treated him after that incorrect information spread like wildfire? Can you imagine how he felt when authorities searched his New Jersey apartment?

It’s bad enough that his brother had committed the heinous crimes, but to be seen by the world as the perpetrator as well must have been devastating. How could you get over being accused of killing your own mother and innocent children and school staff, even if briefly?

Sure, this is an extreme example, but this idea of “close is good enough” in our communication can cause headaches.

One manufacturer I worked for had a plant in Mexico. Specifications for a design change omitted whether it should be in inches or centimeters. When the prototype part was made, it was gigantically wrong. The failure to include what form of measurement cost lots of time and money.

We tend to write more when communicating these days, not less. Social media is rife with inaccuracies, assumptions, and miscommunication because people write without checking the facts or being accurate in what they say and how they say it. This has ruined relationships and reputations unnecessarily.

I will admit that I have fallen into the “it’s good enough” trap, especially when it comes to papers written in my non-writing courses. I try to be generous by reading what students intend to say instead of what they actually do. I lower my expectations of precise communication. I need be clear that they must write clearly, no matter the pain of giving a bad grade.

If we all start expecting accuracy in our communication, can we change the world?

The Past Form Isn’t Present

lead-led meme

It was mid afternoon as Grammar Smith walked into the Hunt and Peck after an extended shift at the Department of English Language Offenses. She just wanted a quick glass of Chardonnay to unwind before heading home.

The bar was pretty much deserted. Grammar sat down a couple of seats away from Led and Paid, and ordered her drink.

“Hello.”

“Hiya, Lieutenant,” Paid replied.

Led just grunted and stared into his beer.

“Rough night?” Paid asked Grammar.

“Not sure I’d say it was rough, more like complicated. We had to track some subject-verb agreement offenses over at Fustian University. It took way too much time. What about you two? What are you doing here in the middle of the afternoon?”

Led snorted, looked up at Rocky, the bartender, and said, “Again.”

She brought him a shot and a beer.

“Whoa there, Led. Hope you’re not driving anywhere,” Grammar said.

“No, I’m driving him home later,” Paid explained. She didn’t look too happy as she nursed her drink.

“What’s going on?”

“Led’s in a bad way,” Paid said. “Both of us have been pushed out by incorrect verb forms. ‘Payed’ has been butting in more often for me, but Led has it worse. Seems like everyone, including writers who should know better, are using ‘lead’ for the past tense of ‘to lead.’”

“It’s just too heavy!” Led downed the shot and gulped the beer.

“C’mon. How bad could it be?”

Paid shot a quick glance at Led, who had his head cradled in his arms on the bar.

“It’s everywhere, Lieutenant. I’m almost thinking the DELO should get involved. It’s killing Led, literally if he keeps drinking like this.”

Grammar sighed. She never seemed to be able to get away from her work.

“I’ll put it on the department’s investigation list,” she promised sipping the last of her wine and heading for home.

Collective Nouns — a Singular (or Plural) Puzzle

jury as unit vs. jury as individuals

“Lieutenant Smith, I think you should see this.”

Sargeant Metaphor placed a copy of The Pencil Post on Grammar’s desk. It had this paragraph circled in red:

The jury in the En Dash identity theft case is expected to reach a verdict today.

Dash is accused of thousands of counts of masquerading as a hyphen. After a long trial and verdict, the jury will be able to return to their families.

“Yes, it’s been a long and exhausting trial, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she’ll be found guilty.”

Dis Connect, looking over Grammar’s shoulder, agreed, “She’ll get what she deserves.”

“That’s not why I’m showing you this. Look at the first and last sentences. How can ‘jury’ be singular and plural? Should I send a couple of officers over to The Pencil Post to see about it?”

“Actually, there’s nothing wrong with that paragraph, ” Grammar said. “‘Jury’ is a collective noun and can take either singular or plural verbs and pronouns depending on how it is being used.”

“I dunno, Boss. That doesn’t sound right,” Dis said.

“Collective nouns — like ‘family,’ ‘team,’ ‘flock,’ ‘class,’ and ‘crowd’ — are singular when the members work as a unit and plural when individuals take separate action. In this case, the jury will be acting as a unit in providing a verdict but as individuals when returning home.”

“Oh, you mean like ‘deer’ which could be a buck standing in the woods or a whole herd,” Dis said.

“No, that’s just the same word for the singular and plural form a noun,” Grammar explained.

“What about corporations. Can a corporation be a singular and plural noun?” Sgt. Methaphor asked.

“Well, most of the time a corporation is singular since it usually acts in a unified manner. Plus, corporations like Kraft take ‘it’ as the pronoun despite what so many writers do,” Grammar said.

“Well, it still seems fishy to me,” Sgt. Metaphor said as she walked back to her desk.