Monday, April 12, 2010

Stuttering and Grammar

I am a corrector. I cannot tolerate grammar errors or mispronunciations, and I often point them out in casual conversation. "Me and Jim?" I believe you mean "Jim and I."

This anal retentiveness has not always endeared me to those who play it "fast and loose" with grammar, but it has served me well in my job as an editor. I clarify dangling participles. I use commas to keep the parts of a sentence where they belong. I acquaint subjects with verbs of the proper number. I hack through confusing verbiage and bring forth the point of a story. When things get confusing, I'm the language hero.

I have always understood how language works. I used to wonder why we had to cover grammar in school. I thought that everyone had my intuitive grasp of language. As I grew up, I realized that this was not the case. There were smart people, people I respected, that didn't know when to use "its" and when to use "it's." I began to wonder why I seemed to have been born with an English teacher on my shoulder.

As I discussed in an earlier post, the beginning of college was a tough time in my stuttering career. Stuttering became the defining factor of my life, and I grew more cynical by the day. A high level of cynicism leads to excessive correcting of others. I was all over people. Nothing got by me. I had turned into a true grammar nazi. My brother, a frequent target of my wrath, finally called me on it.

"Why do you care?" he asked after I had corrected him yet again. "You know what I meant. You're kind of an asshole sometimes." This made me think. Why did I care? Also, why did no one else seem to care as much as I did?

I figured it out while sitting in my freshman writing class. The teacher, a grad student, was handing back our most recent paper. He gave me mine, and I noticed that under the grade - which was an "A" - there was a comment: "No more papers on stuttering." It hit me that every paper I had written for this class was in some way related to stuttering. Was I obsessed? I gave this a lot of thought that day, and I never came to an answer. I did, however, realize why I was such a stickler about language.

Stuttering had made me value language above almost anything else. I have to work for every little bit of communication, so if I am going to say something, it is certainly going to be worded correctly. When I see a fluent person speak with no regard for grammar or pronunciation, I feel like a starving man watching someone throw away food. "Your words come automatically," I think. "You haven't blocked, jerked your head, drooled, stomped your foot, bit your tongue, or even run out out of breath, yet you still end your sentence with a preposition?!"

Targets of my wrath, let's make a deal. I'll ease up on you if you'll realize what I have always known: language is a valuable tool and deserves to be used with care.

If you see any grammar mistakes in this post, feel free to chastise me. I deserve it!

1 comment:

  1. I can see now that you are truly learning what your real gift in life was. Some may speak eloquently, but you write like they speak and in my mind, isn't that a better footprint to leave on this earth? I'm enjoying the very entertaining and heartfelt writing you have done here. I truly hope you will continue.


    Your cousin, Michelle