Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Grammar Geek Grace

Recently, I re-posted a friendly Facebook post from a friend regarding the correct use of apostrophes when making names plural.  (Hint: the answer is, NEVER!)

I thought her super sweet personality came through in the kind, respectful tone she used--and all of the dozens of comments she had received were positive ones--so I decided to copy her words exactly, just to be safe.

This is what I posted:
From my dear fellow grammar-geek friend, Pamela:
Public service announcement from your resident grammar geek: Friends, you can never correctly pluralize a family's last name by adding an apostrophe or an apostrophe plus *s.* The correct way to pluralize a last name is simply to add the letter *s*, unless the last name ends in x, s, z, sh, or ch, in which case you just add *es*. For example, we are the "Fahses." Apostrophes are only for possessive cases. "The Fahses are excited to watch a Duke game in Cameron Indoor Stadium this Christmastime. They'll be staying at the Floreses' house while in North Carolina." Phew. It feels good to get that off my nerdy English teacher chest.

Almost immediately, I received the following reply from a friend:
Ha! Knowing this rule, I still opt for clarity - if "Conchira's" looks better to me, then it works better as far as I am concerned, and I use it. This is a simple choice, because at this point - not having any English teacher to impress - "geek-ness" is only in the eye of the beholder. Plus, ultimately I know that my God is a God of GRACE.. (:

We had some friendly, light-hearted banter back and forth, but ultimately it was possibly going to take on a negative tone, so I just tried to graciously drop it and move on.

The thing is, I haven't been able to.  (On Facebook, yes.  In real life, no.)  I can't believe how much it is bothering me--this idea that there is not an objective right and wrong...that "just whatever I think" is a fine standard for something like grammar.  

My daughter helped this same apostrophe-friend's daughter tune her new violin the other night.  I became amused with the idea of indicating that we tuned it to F, D, B, and A (instead of the standard E, A, D, and G) "because it works better as far as we are concerned." 

I know that I tend to be a black-and-white thinker, and that I often get in trouble by applying black-and-white standards to things that should be opinions and choices.  (Think of things like breastfeeding... tattoos... homeschooling... whether or not someone should teach their kids to eat vegetables... You get the idea!)  But I'm a little flabbergasted at this argument for something like spelling and punctuation in grammar.  

It feels like arguing whether 4x5 really equals 20.  An intelligent, educated adult would never claim, "Well, it just works better for me to think of 4x5 as 45.  That just makes more sense to me."

And my friend is an intelligent, educated adult.  And he is a Christian believer.  And, I assume, he believes in standards of right and wrong.  I have the utmost of respect and admiration for him and his sweet family.  So, this whole experience really has me thinking about how the world views grammar.

I know that most people don't use correct grammar.  I am an editor and an English teacher by profession, so I walk around the world with a figurative red pen in my hand.  I don't say anything to you--and I learned a long time ago how to let it go and not have it affect my opinion of you or your intelligence--but I do see any grammatical errors you may make.  I'm trained to.  Most of the world isn't.  Grammatical rules are sometimes confusing, goofy, counter-intuitive, and difficult to remember and apply.  I get that.  No biggie.

I have just always assumed that the mistakes were because folks didn't know the rules, or didn't know how to apply them correctly.  I have always assumed that people would like to do it right if they could...and that the only time it matters whether it is actually right or not is when one is doing something important, in writing.  (Of course, texting and Facebook statuses don't apply, except to us grammar geek types who still have a hard time leaving out a necessary apostrophe or capital letter even there!) 

But in important, published items--like Christmas cards or address plaques for the front door--I have assumed most people would like it to be correct.  

In fact, just today, I saw this great picture posted on Facebook:

Above it was the line, "Can we get a like in support of our soldier's?"  Rather than the smart-alec English teacher line, "...in support of our soldier's what?!,"  I chose to write them the following (private) message:
Just wanted you to know that--in your post, "Can we get a like in support of our soldier's?"--the word soldiers should be spelled without an apostrophe. Since you're getting hundreds of thousands of "likes," I thought you might want to edit it to be correct.

And I was pretty thrilled with their response: "Good catch. Thank you." 

It is this, "I-like-the-way-it-looks-better-when-it-is-wrong-and-that's-totally-fine-and-legitimate" idea that is totally new to me.

And I think, ultimately, what is haunting me--really--is the deeper realization that this is how we often view standards, too, and not just grammar.  "This works for me.  I like it better this way.  Never mind what's right and wrong in your book.  And don't talk to me about your book.  The fact that you think you're right and I'm wrong makes you narrow-minded... bigoted... judgmental... old-fashioned... fanatical... dogmatic... dangerous."

And yes, I'm as guilty as the next person.  I smile to remember a Beth Moore quote in a Bible study of hers I was attending:  "And, dontcha know, the standard is squarely under mah feet?!!" (That's "my" with Beth's Southern accent!)  That is how we tend to function.  We want to recast right and wrong--good and bad--acceptable and unacceptable--into our own standards that make us feel comfortable... under our feet, if you will.

And so, this year--this new year of 2013--I have a goal.  I want to be sure that anything I take a strong stand for or against, in any way, has a biblical root in Truth.  No getting bent out of shape about anything that isn't explicitly or implicitly addressed in Scripture.  And the implicit better be pretty clear.

So, does the proper spelling of names--and whether or not they are supposed to have apostrophes in the plural--qualify?  No.  Yes, you can argue that there is a right and wrong at stake there, and that loose standards lead to loose morals and all that, but I'm going to try this year to err--in matters that are not moral absolutes--on the side of "make aware, then let it go."  And then I'm really going to try to let it go!

Feel free to hold me to it!

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