Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just My Type

I might have to change the focus of this blog from grammar to Mad Men. All I want to do is talk about the show. I want to talk about what they’re going to do with Sally’s character and how handsome Don Draper is and how funny Roger Sterling is this season. I’m particularly obsessed with Don’s new wife, Meghan. I thought her "Zou Bisou Bisou" rendition was awesome.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Don remarried because psychologist Dr. Faye Miller foreshadowed it when she said, “You’ll be married again in a year. I forget that some people don’t like to think they’re a type.”

The part about people not liking to think they’re a type really stuck with me. I, of course, would like to think that I am a unique, little snowflake, but a few years ago I learned that I was a type. Someone said to me, “You’re an English teacher and you drive a Saab; you must be a liberal.” Apparently, I’m a cliché!

I guess there is something comforting about knowing that there are like-minded people out there. And it’s also nice to know that, thanks to the comma, I have some control over how much I can emphasize those similarities.

For example, let’s say I met a liberal-minded, English-teaching, Saab driver with Don Draper’s looks, Roger Sterling’s sense of humor, and Peggy Olsen’s feminist ideals. I would definitely want to stress our similarities. Therefore, if he said, “I love heirloom tomatoes,” I would respond with:

I, too, love heirloom tomatoes.

I love heirloom tomatoes, too.

Using commas with too emphasizes it. If we don’t want to emphasize the too, we simply don’t use commas:

I too love heirloom tomatoes.

I love heirloom tomatoes too.

Okay, so enough of that grammar nonsense. Do you think Betty and Meghan will meet? Do you think Joan’s husband will come home from Vietnam to a silver-haired baby? Do you think Don will cheat on Meghan?

Is it Sunday night yet?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snow White and the Seven Million Comma Rules

A few posts back, Shelly from the blog La Tejana wrote in my comments section, "If you've got anything in your bag of tricks to rid 8th graders of their fear of commas, I'd love hear it." In response, I'd like to share the story of how I overcame my fear of commas:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was like Belle from Beauty in the Beast. By comparing herself to Belle, she doesn’t mean to be stuck-up and imply that she was beautiful and kind; she just means that she was brunette, attracted to hairy men, and always had her nose in a book. In college, she was one of those nerdy students who loved listening to her English professors’ lectures about symbolism, language, and character development. She couldn’t wait to be an English professor herself so she could share all the valuable knowledge she had accumulated about literature.

And then one day it happened. She heard the clop clop of horses’ hooves and saw a sparkly coach pull up outside of her house. From the coach emerged a man in tights carrying a satin pillow with a scroll on top of it. He presented her with the scroll, which was a job offer to teach college English. Her wish had been granted!

Well, not exactly.

She had not been hired to teach literature; she had been hired to teach a remedial English class—a class on basic grammar and writing skills. She had never officially studied such material, but since she was an avid reader and had a good memory, she had always gotten by grammatically. Sure, there had been times when she wasn’t sure whether or not a sentence required a comma and would consequently rewrite the whole entire sentence so she didn’t have to deal with it. And there were other times when she would find commas written in red ink on her college essays, but since she had received A’s on the essays, she didn’t pay those comma errors any attention. But she figured that as a teacher she would just rely on the text book and everything would be okay.

Accordingly, on the day that she was to teach commas, she glanced over the text before class. She would have the students read the lessons, do the accompanying exercises, and then they would go over them together. But something happened that she had not anticipated: a student raised his hand and asked her a question. The book had said that a comma follows introductory phrases and then gave these two examples:

By four in the afternoon, everybody wanted to go home.

After the game on Saturday, we all went dancing.

Because that was the extent of the book’s lesson, the student asked her what an introductory phrase was. She knew an introductory phrase when she saw it, but she didn’t know how to explain it. And that, she realized, was how she was with all the comma rules: she had but a vague understanding of them.

She was so embarrassed that she wanted to turn into a pumpkin. She even thought about throwing in the towel and shacking up with seven little men. But what she actually did was put her nose back in the books and studied commas. It took studying many books and websites until she fully understood them. But all the time and effort was worth it because not only could she better help her students; she never had to rewrite a sentence again due to comma insecurity.

So the moral of the story is that comma rules are to us like the Seven Dwarfs were to Snow White. Because there are so many of them, they can be a little overwhelming at first. But once we accept them and really get to know them, we realize just how helpful they are.

And they all lived grammatically ever after!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Haute for Teacher

Sometimes, I wish I were a guy. It’s not because as a woman I still only make 87% of what a man makes. And it has nothing to do with the peeing while standing up thing. (I’m lazy; I’ll sit whenever I can.) It’s because if I were a guy I’d have my whole English professor look down. I’d totally go for the tweed jacket, scruffy beard, unkempt hair look. Kind of like the guy on the left I found on

I feel like he and I could discuss psychoanalytical interpretations of Hamlet all day long in his Norton Anthology-strewn office.

There’s no such romanticized look for female teachers, is there? Sure, there’s the pencil skirt and the bun, but it comes off as more uptight than intellectual.

So in a quest for my English teacher look, I extensively studied my options, and here’s what I found.

Which is your fave?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sluts and Twats and C!#ts, Oh My!

“What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke,” pondered Rush Limbaugh, “who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex – what does that make her?”

(Translation from Limbaughnese to English: Paid to have sex = believes insurance companies should cover birth control.)

Rush concluded, “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”

As many of us know, this conclusion has resulted in a Rush Limbaugh backlash that has cost him at least twenty advertisers.

Some, however, believe the Rush Limbaugh backlash is unfair because left-wing media personalities have gotten away with equally misogynistic remarks unscathed. For example, apparently Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” and the word that starts C with and rhymes with “runt.”

If you agree that Rush is being targeted unfairly, then you probably also sympathize with the word assume. The practice of assuming gets a bad rap because it involves making a conclusion without having proof. And I agree that assuming can, in fact, make asses out of people—like that time I incorrectly assumed a woman was pregnant. (From now on, I won’t mention the word pregnant unless a woman’s water breaks right in front of me.)

However, if we are going to give assume a hard time, shouldn’t we also have a problem with presume.

The definition of presume is “to take for granted, assume, or suppose.”

In fact, English language expert Bill Bryson says, “Assume, in the sense of 'to suppose', normally means to put forth a realistic hypothesis, something that can be taken as probable … Presume has more of an air of sticking one's neck out, of making an assertion that may be arguable or wrong."

So did Limbaugh assume or presume that Fluke was a slut?

Did Maher assume or presume that Palin was a dumb twat?

Am I assuming or presuming that the answers you provide to the two previous questions will give me insight into your political views?