When I give a shit

When I first became a copyeditor, my friends got nervous about writing letters to me. I scolded them (because I’m all diplomatic like that), telling them that I would never correct their grammar in an email. My mama raised me better than that. However if they handed me a copy of their resumes, all bets were off.

I try to make my blog posts grammatically correct because I’m a goddamned copyeditor. I use sentence fragments sparingly in my creative writing for effect. I’ve stopped putting semi colons in my poems. A certain amount of adherence to grammar rules depends on the circumstance.

It’s never okay to confuse its and it’s. But contractions? “Didn’t” is fine in informal and even formal published writing. But you’d better write that shit out in your dissertation.

When you write your lawyer, your professor, your publisher, etc., you’d best be sure that you have no grammatical inconsistencies. No fragments, no contractions, no departure from the most anal rules of the English language (look, a fragment for effect!). Do not end your sentences with a preposition. It’s not that it’s wrong to do so, it’s that you want to be using your most formal style.

In creative writing, you can calm the fuck down. Write in fragments, curse, use contractions. But make sure it’s comprehensible to the reader, unless you have a good reason for it to be obtuse.

I have the amazing ability to moderate my editorial eye. In a cover letter, I’ll bust you for capitalizing “department” in “English department.” In creative writing, I’ll let you use sentence fragments to your heart’s content.

What rules are you  living by today?

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9 responses to “When I give a shit

  1. My only abiding rule is that the writing be clear to the reader. As form follows function, that rule usually leads to decent grammar, though I tend to drop conjunctions and remain hopelessly addicted to the sentence fragment.

  2. My rule today, be brave.
    This is me being brave.

    Commenting here makes me really nervous.

    For along time, ( “a long” or “along” I looked it up and I’m still not sure), I resisted commenting here because writing in your house is like me in a bathing suit at a public pool; in my own body of water I’m okay, sort-of, in yours I’d jump in with my clothes on. (I had to think way to much about using the semi colon.) (And did I use the right to?)

    To be honest, I break grammar rules because I have a disability, I flunked English and I’m a columnist, go figure. My Strunk and White and Blue Book are so dogeared you’d think I was a genius. I and genius in the same sentence, funny. (I looked up genius in three difference locations and found two different spellings. I was sweating but decided to go with the one which looked right.) Using ( ) has actually upset my stomach, do I punctuate in or outside the ( ) ? I’m thinking I shouldn’t even comment.

    Fuck it. I’m commenting anyway. At least I know I spelled fuck right.

    • Seriously, I don’t judge. Blog comments are informal, and I don’t expect everyone to know all the picky rules. If they did, I’d be out of work.

      (Punctuation is inside the parentheses if it is a whole sentence, and outside if it’s just part of a sentence.)

      I have to look up principle/principal every single time.

      Be brave.

      • PS If you observed the chaos of my life you would laugh your ass off. I have no idea why I can remember the difference between its and it’s and cannot keep track of my glasses for longer than 2.4 seconds.

    • I think my glasses are on the mantle and the keys are in the bowl? This is the rule I should be living by, anyway. (More often than not, both are hiding camouflaged as something entirely different in the bottom of a bag.)

      Are you home?

  3. About the only rule I adhere to is to say it in such a way as to be clear (as clear as I intend) to the reader. As the writer Emma Darwin says, grammar is a tool, not a rule. At least, that’s my rule for creative writing, but in my experience, most, MOST people wouldn’t know proper grammar if they saw it. The so-called rules are conditional, temporary, cultural, and sometimes even elitist.

    But I grouse.

    • I agree. The rule about not splitting infinitives is because you can’t split an infinitive in Latin (because it’s one word) for fuck’s sake. However, Chicago and the AP do keep coming up with new style manuals, not just to sell more copies, but also to have a slightly dynamic take on our changing language and its rules.

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