Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 27, 2012

Stark, Staring Mad

      I am fond of my fondness for grammar, although I shock myself sometimes when I edit my own work to see what I have written.  I put it down to haste.  A pleasure I take from writing is the rewriting and revision I do.  The book I’ve written on Public Education, which I hope someday to hear good news about, I have worked my way through six times.  To my chagrin, each time I found new and silly errors that needed attention.

     I wish I had been fond of grammar from whenever my first introduction to it was, but then, I wish I had been fond of school, too.  As I have said elsewhere, my knowledge of grammar really came into being when I began to teach it.  Come to think of it, that’s when I began to like school.  My undergraduate college education did not begin well.  I left Boston College at its request mid-way through my sophomore year, returned about a year later, and then left again on my own before the second semester ended.  I didn’t get back to college until I’d been teaching for seven years.  To my delighted surprise, I liked that side of the desk just as much.  It’s fun to be a star pupil, not to mention so much easier when you are nearing forty and the majority of your classmates are under twenty.

     I think I write fairly well, sometimes even very well.  I’ve always had a facility with writing that I believe is both nature and nurture.  My mother and her siblings all enjoyed language both written and spoken.  Of them, six are published writers.  Of my many cousins, six that I know of are published, one prolifically so.  And reading, reading, reading was emphasized and encouraged and required in my mother’s house.

     As an English teacher of seniors (the school where I first taught went up to ninth grade;  they were the senior class), I was required to write recommendations for them as part of their applications for the prep schools most went to the following year.  I took that as a challenge and was often rewarded by notes from admissions directors thanking me for my illuminating and entertaining recommendations.  That was my first inkling about me and writing and the pleasure I might get from it.

     I began to understand better the connection between writing well and knowing grammar when I realized I was solving many revision troubles because I knew grammar so well and could see the grammatical relationship between how words should work together and how I might say better what I was trying to say.

     As a result, I don’t misuse lie and lay, amount and number, imply and infer, like and as, and I never claim to be disinterested unless that is what I mean.  I don’t mistake pore for pour or effect for affect, although it did take me until I was much too old to stop typing loose when I meant lose, and that only happened because my Aunt Jane told me she would never speak to me again unless I learned the difference.  I refuse to pretend that they and their can be used in any way but gratingly to agree with singular antecedents.  I rarely to the point of almost never misuse nominative and objective case pronouns.  I know the exceptions to the i before e rule, and the dropping the final e when you add ly rule.  And when I hear people who should know better say things such as, “That is just between my wife and I,” I say the word me aloud.

     To me, grammar’s relationship to writing and speaking is the same as that of cooking to good ingredients and following directions.  If you bake, you know what I mean.  The difference between “beat until smooth” and “fold together just until moistened” is the difference between serving your zucchini bread to guests or running out at the last minute to buy something, anything at the supermarket.

     Which is why Public Education’s condescending attitude toward teaching its students grammar as a discrete discipline frustrated me so when I was teaching and still today makes be stark, staring mad.



  1. You may be leaving your “stark, staring mad”-ness behind as you post to a public blog. This outs you now as a “stark, raving mad” blogger with an acumen for all things public education, and the way things ought to be…

    • Oh, how nice of you to think so. From your lips to the ears of the gods.

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