Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grammar Tips Flow Out of My Fingers

Sorry you haven't heard much from me over the past week or so. We're five weeks into the semester which means that the first round of projects and tests are all coming due. For the students, that means getting a few days to relax after working feverishly; for the professor, that means getting to continue working feverishly while adding grading on top of my duties. I've been grading worksheets, essays, journals, and paper proposals. The rest of the week will be spent dealing with tests and listening journals and worksheets examining various types of printed music. Needless to say, I'm a bit cross-eyed at night.

But all this grading invariably turns a professor's thoughts to dreams of proper grammar. I keep a small folder of the most egregious examples of bad writing, those little gems that become unintentionally hilarious by means of misplaced modifiers and incorrectly used commas. The folder even contains some of my own writing, but thankfully all of those examples are from before I submitted the paper or article. Not so with my students, and not with other faculty. I'm still chuckling over the faculty member who e-mailed a significant portion of the faculty and student body under the subject heading "Your invited" and proceeded to exhort us all that "you got to be there!" I still haven't figured out what of mine was invited. Perhaps my hand so we could finally answer the koan "what is the sound of one hand clapping?"

I've developed a reputation among the students for being something of a Nazi when it comes to grammar (their phrase, not mine). It's a reputation I wear with honor. I join the proud rank and file with my newly-discovered favorite podcast, The Grammar Girl. Hosted by Mignon Fogarty, The Grammar Girl's podcasts are short, snappy, and snarky tips on common grammar mistakes. She's addressed "Which vs. That," "Who vs. That," and even my personal favorite, drilled into me by a music history professor of mine, "Split Infinitives." I've started recommending her site to my students, but the podcasts are just so darn entertaining and informative that you should take a look too.

In my attempts to break up the monotony of grading, I've also stumbled across a website that deals with another topic dear to my heart - the useless quotation mark. The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks collects reader-submitted pictures of inappropriately-used quotation marks that have humorous consequences like this one or perhaps this one. I see this all the time as students do not know how to use quotation marks for musical works. The signs collected on the "Blog" offer a good antidote to the decidedly un-humorous task of grading papers.

So, dear readers, favorite grammar-related stories of your own?


lauragayle said...

Ah yes, I'm so glad you appreciated that e-mail as well. Lovely example for the students too. Somehow split infinitives and I still have some relationship issues. Yesterday some colleagues were reviewing a committee recommendation letter I wrote and found one. One, in a six-page tome. I laughed and fixed it. However, the same colleague who made a big deal about it had quite a few edits in her copy. Gotta watch that karma; it can come back and bite you!

Except when you're grading papers.

Oh, and one of the student quotations in one of these recommendation letters actually had "I learnt." I kid you not. I don't think it was a music student, though. Whew.

Tad and Monica said...

Don't get me started....I have declared myself the apostrophe Nazi. Please tell me you've read Eats, Shoots and Leaves. If you haven't, you must.

Andrew said...

I love Eats, Shoots and Leaves and always bring it up to my Research and Bibliography classes on the first day.

Dr. Forbers said...

My favorite screw-up is more oral than written: the overuse of "literally."

For example, one student speaker in Taylor chapel several years ago implored us to help out with Youth Day, because the high schoolers were "literally falling into our laps." Ouch.

Etta said...

I have to concur with Dr. Forbers on the overuse of "literally" to display emphasis. In fact, Michael and I make fun of it so much that we have started placing the word "figuratively" where most people use the word "literally," since that is really what they mean. For example, to use the above-mentioned phrase, the high schoolers were "[figuratively] falling into our laps."

Of course, there's also the use of "I" as an object pronoun, or the mixing of subject and object pronouns. That one really bugs I.
Or, he and me.

I do want to point out, my friend, that I would appreciate you never reading MY blog again, as I am sure it is fraught with grammatical errors. I confess I do not edit my blog entries as I would a research paper. That would just take too much time, and after all, I do have, you know, A LIFE.
So please, my dear intellectual amigo, grant me some grace in the grammar department. I did, after all usually get A's on my college papers. So please don't start grading my blog. :)

Andrew said...

Ah yes, "literally" is literally overused. :)

And Etta, never fear about my grammar-checking your blog. My own blog has enough grammatical mistakes to dissuade me from ever scoffing at another's blog mistakes. Someone should eventually write a dictionary for blog grammar, because in many ways it is different from normal syntax.

Tad said...

To follow up on the idea of "blog grammar", I must admit that my e-mails to friends and family would likely make any English teacher cringe. Having said that, I can't abide e-mails from students that are void of punctuation, capital letters, or any semblance of subject-verb agreement. I'm also experiencing a steep learning curve when it comes to this generation's text-message abbreviations.

d comN abbrs 4 txt msgs hs Bcum a nu lang

If you're bored one night, check out -- Among several useful lists of work-related jargon, you can "translate" back and forth between English and "Lingo"

I'm ashamed to say that I'll never get that fifteen minutes of my life back... but I learned mnE nu fings!