Dash Masquerades as Hyphen — Criminally

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As she walked into the squad room, Grammar Smith glanced over at Dis Connect’s desk and saw Henrietta Hyphen slumped in a chair.

Henrietta was a “frequent flyer” at the Dept. of English Language Offenses.

“What have you done this time?” Grammar asked as she ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“I haven’t done anything!” Henrietta snapped. “I’m here filing a complaint against my cousin, En Dash.”

Grammar raised an eyebrow. Dis nodded his confirmation.

“What’s the problem?” Grammar asked.

“En has always been jealous of me, and now she’s stolen my identity! She keeps popping up in phrases where I should be. She’s stealing my thunder!” Henrietta fumed.

“There’s evidence.”

Dis showed Grammar the file:

Exhibit A: the 25 – year – old lawyer

Exhibit B:   The antique — book collector pounded upon the first edition.

Exhibit C:  She could be a full – or part – time worker.

“There are many more instances we’re still tracking down,” Dis said.

“Why is En doing this?” Grammar asked.

“It’s infuriating,” Henrietta ranted. “En hates that she’s not actively part of a phrase or sentence. She doesn’t accept that she’s used to set aside and emphasize ideas. I think she’s afraid of not being essential. That’s why she’s always butting in where she doesn’t belong.”

“Just because she appears where she shouldn’t doesn’t make it criminal,” Grammar explained.

“She’s not just showing up where she shouldn’t. She’s pretending to be me. She’s stealing my livelihood.”

“That is criminal – very tough,” Grammar admitted. “Good luck.”

Pursuing Pop-up Prepositions

Popup Preps

“I don’t know where to begin,” Dis Connect complained to Grammar Smith.

He pointed to a stack of warrants on his desk.

“What are those about?” Grammar asked.

“They’re Over Exposure Warrants for a bunch of prepositions. I’m supposed to get them out of the sentences they keep popping up in where they shouldn’t.”

“Well, tell me what you have.”

“There are tons, but there are a few prepositions that are frequent offenders. Take of for instance. It tags along with off. Then it’s always shoving have out of the picture to hook up with could and should.

“Yes, I’ve seen the trouble of can sometimes cause. What other problem prepositions do you have there?”

To is another one that keeps butting in where it doesn’t belong. It seems to dog near and go a lot.”

“Hmmm,” Grammar mused. “That’s a bit tricky since to has to appear in verb infinitives. Can you give me an example of its straying ways?”

Dis frowned. “It mainly surfaces in questions. It shouldn’t be in ‘Where are you going to?’”

“Yes, that’s an offense that’s getting hard to overlook.”

“It’s when those prepositions slide in at the end for no good reason that gets me,” Dis said.

“Oh, yes! The worst is at,” Grammar agreed. “When I see or hear ‘Where are you at?’ I want to strangle someone. It’s worse than someone not turning their car alarm off all night.”

Dis nodded. “The best we can do is put them in handcuffs and keep them out of those sentences as much as possible.”

Just then, Wally Wordorder, head of the Fugitive Syntax Squad, ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“Ready to go?”

Dis stood up, gathering his equipment. “We’ll have to stop and get extra pairs of handcuffs.”

 

Never Forget Why We Can Enjoy Today

2tomb-unknown-soldierToday is Memorial Day in the United States – the day we honor those who died protecting our country, protecting us.

I think it is more that we honor the way they lived. The fallen multitudes embraced the responsibility to protect our way of life from those who would usurp or destroy it.  Knowing full well the dangers, they paid the ultimate price to defend against the bullies of the world. They saw there was a greater good to achieve.

Oh, we can sit here and argue whether this or that war was right or justified. And that’s the whole point.

While we munch on our hot dogs, down some burgers, or sip on sodas, we can say what we want about our political leaders. We can protest government actions we think are wrong. We can do it without fearing some goons will crash into our homes and drag us off to jail or even chop our heads off.

The freedom we enjoy in this country is precious and paid for with the blood of citizens. We all must share in the responsibility of maintaining it. We do that by being informed and active voters, by letting our representatives know what we think about the issues, by paying our taxes, by sitting on a jury, and even by serving in the military.

Is this country perfect? Heck, no! We are flawed, but we must recognize this and continually strive toward the ideals our government is based on. We must have the courage to fulfill our obligations to something greater than ourselves.

By all means, enjoy the day. Just never forget the host of angels who have given you the freedom to do just that.

 

All Caps ≠ Importance

Carlotta Capilito

The building reverberated with a stentorian voice.

What is going on?” Grammar Smith was startled in mid-sentence of a report on a particularly nasty case of apostrophe abuse.

“I WANT TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN CHARGE.” The voice was getting closer – and louder.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Grammar asked Sgt. Metaphor.

“Huh?” The sergeant took earplugs out.

“What’s the fuss?”

“Oh, it’s just Carlotta Capilito. She’s here to talk to you about arrangements for the annual Composition Benefit Gala.”

Sgt. Metaphor put the earplugs back in as a tall, stately woman rounded the corner.

“ARE YOU LIEUTENANT GRAMMAR SMITH?”

“Yes.” Grammar was surprised that her hair was actually being blown back. She thought that only happened in comic books.

“I AM CARLOTTA CAPILITO, AND EVERYTHING I SAY IS IMPORTANT. I AM HERE TO DISCUSS THE GALA.”

“Right this way,” Dis Connect had appeared and was showing Carlotta to a meeting room.

Sgt. Metaphor handed Grammar a pair of earplugs, “Here. I also have some Chardonnay on ice for when the meeting’s over.”

Mystified, Grammar took the earplugs and was putting them in when she heard, “Hi, Grammar!! How have you been?! Working on this gala together is going to be great!!”

Pushing Grammar toward the meeting room, Sgt. Metaphor nodded sagely, “Eddie Exclamation is on the committee, too.”


Thanks to Roxie for inspiring this week’s entry. 🤗

How to Begin?

pieces of puzzle

Getting started on a writing project, according to my anecdotal research, is the hardest step to take.

How do we get all the pieces to the writing jigsaw puzzle to coalesce into a masterpiece?

There are almost as many techniques as there are writers, but there are a few main approaches that center around how best to organize the material.

Knowing the purpose and audience makes organizing things much easier, but we still have to take that first step, write that first sentence.

There seem to be two camps of action: the “seat of my pants” scribes and the uber organization writers.

Just Write

Some people have to get the words out of their heads. For them, just plunging in is the best method to start.  Don’t worry about mistakes, transitions, or even clumping information logically.

This reminds me of when I took swimming lessons as a child. There was no slow progress into the cold pool. We just jumped in, making sure to get our heads underwater. After the initial shock, our bodies were accustomed to the temperature, and it was easier to concentrate on swimming.

This method requires vigorous revision, though. The writer must go back and clean up the content to make sure the reader can follow. (Most effective writing is not Finnegan’s Wake.)

Organize, Organize, Organize

Some writers are compelled to have everything laid out nice and neat before they type a single word.

This always reminds me of going on vacation with Clipboard People. They always have every minute scheduled and no time for just lounging around or winging it for an adventure.

While this approach can save a lot of time in revision, the danger is spending so much time organizing that you never get started.

Take a Pinch of This, a Pinch of That

I find the best approach to be a hybrid. Have a basic idea of where to place the pieces, then dive in.

I have a friend who will sit and stare out into space for a while, then start writing. She organizes the material in her head before she composes anything.

Many experienced writers will do this. They look like they’re goofing off, but they are processing things. Even jotting down a few phrases in a rough outline helps give a writer a path to follow.

Whichever approach you take, never forget that you need to take the time to revise. There is no “first time is always right” shortcut in writing.

Finding the most comfortable method to begin makes a writer’s life so much easier.

An End-of-Semester Wish List

dodo-in-tophatMEME

The other night, I graded my last paper of the semester and cracked open the bottle of wine that had been calling out to me all week. As I sipped my single glass of victory, I reflected on the state of my students’ writing.

I couldn’t help but long for them to enter my classes with a better foundation in grammar and syntax, so I came up with a wish list I would like elementary and secondary school teachers to try and fulfill.

  • Properly teach comma use. I want to put a thumbtack,point up, on the chair of every teacher who takes the lazy way out and proclaims, “Put a comma in whenever you pause or take a breath.” They set their students up for a lifetime of comma confusion.
  • Teach other punctuation. I know K-12 teachers are doing this, but I’d appreciate it if they explained that exclamation points shouldn’t end every sentence and question marks should only show up at the end of direct questions. (Oh, and please explain that colons and semicolons are not interchangeable with each other or commas.)
  • Ditch the absolute prohibition of beginning sentences with “because” and replace it with “being that.” Yes, I understand students often end up with sentence fragments if they start sentences with “because.” However, this should not become a lifelong ban. Why not prohibit “being that” instead? Honestly, I can’t think of any good reason for it.
  • Help end creative capitalization. I understand that, in an age of texting and microblogging (Tweeting for the uninitiated), this could be tough. Trying to convince adult learners that the pronoun “I” should always be capitalized is frustrating. Modern texting apps may automatically capitalize it, but students don’t notice. The concept of proper nouns versus common nouns seems to escape them, too.
  • Show students how parts of speech are building blocks to proper sentences. Like parts of an engine or rooms in a building, each part of speech has a role to play to build solid, effective sentences.

The good news, at least for me and my future students, is that the Common Core Standards being implemented in states across America cover these things.

It gives me hope that good grammar, unlike cursive writing, will not follow the path of the dodo.