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mcgrew's Journal: Get off Wierd Al's Lawn! 10

Journal by mcgrew

Oops, that's "get off of Weird Al's lawn."

Rummaging through Google News this morning I ran across what I considered a humorous article on Time about Weird Al's song Word Crimes, a diatribe against poor grammar. Of course, being a writer who (not "whom") has no editor, I really have to watch my own grammar closely; books are supposed to be grammatical. Uh, was that sentence grammatically correct?

I must confess that besides the fact that some folks I know IRL (Al and the article's author would hate that "IRL") had trouble with some of the vocabulary in Nobots ("Are those all words I can look up in the dictionary?" Well, yeah, mostly) that's one reason I chose to make the lion's share of Mars, Ho! to be a first person perspective from an undereducated viewpoint. Thank you, Mister Clemons. Twain was bashed for Huckleberry Finn's atrocious grammar, when having Huck, Jim, and Tom speak proper English would have been stupid and ruined the story.

It's hard enough writing a 100,000 word novel, and I'm failing at this, I doubt it will be anywhere near Baen's lower limit. Baen's management must not have read any Twain. When Twain was asked how long a novel should be, he replied "as many words as it takes to tell the story and not a single word more." I refuse to pad it out to drearyness, as was a long, boring, pointless 450 page science fiction book by a writer I used to enjoy greatly before publishers started insisting on books as heavy as the average American.

Plus, the poor grammar of the character allows a little humor (Knolls: "Computer, what's the best way to knock them bitches out?" Computer: "Parse error, there are no female dogs on board and 'knock' is not in context, please rephrase the question or order"), even some poetic humor such as "the heavy German woman with the heavy German accent", playing on the multiple meanings of the word ("Whoa, dude, that's heavy!! Pass me that bong, man").

But I have to say, I agree with Al and with the article's writer, Richard Corliss, who (not whom) makes his own grammar errors, such as "And the copy editor of a book I wrote for Simon & Schuster corrected my frequent use of years as adjectives ('the 1955 novelty tune...'). I didn't know that was a word crime, and, between you and I [sic], I keep breaking it." Uh, that oughta be "you and me", dude. And yes, that error of mine was on purpose; I realize that "oughta" ain't a word any more than "ain't" is a word.

This paragraph is, I think, 100% factually correct:

Nothing in a living language is written in stone. Over the decades, words go from wrong to right. Speak as you will; others will understand you, whatever offenses you utter against hoary* tradition. Just realize that the people in a position to hire you, mark your exams or fall in love with you may have stricter standards of written and spoken English. Like Weird Al Yankovic, or the reporters who noted the less and fewer mistake on Greg Maddux's Hall of Fame plaque, we grammar snobs are listening.

That goes quadruple for literature, even my poor attempt at literature. But those of you who "could care less" (which the writer correctly points out actually says that if you could care less, you must care at least a little) should know that when you don't know the difference between there, their, and they're, you come across as being so uneducated that your viewpoint can be safely dismissed. The literate is unlikely to learn much from the aliterate.

* I have GOT to find a use for that word in the book!

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Get off Wierd Al's Lawn!

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  • Like Weird Al Yankovic, or the reporters who noted the less and fewer mistake on Greg Maddux's Hall of Fame plaque, we grammar snobs are listening.

    See, that's who should speak up over the there, their, and they're "controversy". We need to cut the absent minded some slack. I'm sure most know the difference.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Well, anyone can make those errors when very sleepy or drunk, but some folks always do. The last data I saw said that only 3% of Americans read books regularly. So 97% of Americans are either illiterate (1% of the population) or aliterate. I'm pretty sure that's where the problem stems from.

  • by gmhowell (26755)

    Ain't is a word. Dynamic language and all that. But yeah, don't use it in a job interview.

    Who was the SF author you've dropped due to verbosity?

    I've often wondered if some of the denser tomes of the 1800s would be easier to slog through if read as originally presented: as serials. Surely someone has a web page showing how Tale of Two Cities was originally published.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Fred Pohl. I didn't drop him, I just thought his last book was boring.

      I made it about halfway through Tale of Two Cities, it started becoming a tedious read, but I don't think language had much to do with it, and neither would it be presented as a serial. His A Christmas Carol is still a favorite, though.

      • by gmhowell (26755)

        "The 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly installments in Dickens's new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. From April 1859 to November 1859, Dickens also republished the chapters as eight monthly sections in green covers. All but three of Dickens's previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. The first weekly instalment of A Tale of Two Cities ran in the first issue of All the Year Round on 30 April 1859. The last ran thirty weeks later, on 26 November."

        From Wikipedia.

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