It’s the Grammar Police Chief!

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2006

In the early 1980’s, I went to a Tupperware party in a small neighboring community where 20 ladies had gathered, but I knew only the hostess and one other person. As we became acquainted, I began to answer their questions.

&uot;Where do you work?&uot; To that I said, &uot;At the community college?&uot; Another asked, &uot;What do you do?&uot; Careful with my answer, I replied, &uot;I teach.&uot; Then one asked the dreaded question, &uot;What do you teach?&uot; Smiling, I said, &uot;English.&uot;

After that reply, the silent treatment came. No one else carried on a conversation with me that evening. No, I’m not kidding. Evidently, people believe that English teachers, known as the grammar police, stay on duty 24 hours a day, but we don’t.

Some must also believe that we listen to each sentence, grade it accordingly, and record errors. At some point in life I learned to say, &uot;I’m off duty now. No, I didn’t analyze that sentence. I do that at work.&uot;

However, I always see terrible grammar errors when they are written down. Likewise, I hear big errors when highly paid news announces say them. I suppose I excuse local announces, but I expect far more from those on the national news, those who make the same errors that I correct in my freshmen college students’ papers!

If I were to list pet peeves that I hear from people who make my salary look like a tip left on a table, these errors are a few that upset me. One is the use of BADLY. An oh-so-proper person says, &uot;I FEEL BADLY about that.&uot; That sentence is WRONG.

The only way that someone can feel badly is for the nerve endings in his/her fingers to be functioning poorly or improperly. Actually, someone can FEEL BAD or FEEL GOOD. If he has been sick and is better, he can now feel well. But he never feels badly.

This time of the year I hear, &uot;HE GRADUATED COLLEGE in May.&uot; WRONG! One does not graduate college; however, one graduates FROM COLLEGE. There is another correct usage: &uot;The college graduated 357 students.&uot; The college can &uot;graduate students,&uot; but students can &uot;graduate college.&uot; Students don’t have that much authority.

Also, DIFFERENT THAN is WRONG. Don’t say it. Someone should say, &uot;Her style is DIFFERENT FROM mine.&uot; Simply use DIFFERENT FROM. That’s correct. Don’t follow the crowd.

When former President Ronald Reagan died, a national news anchor said, &uot;President Reagan is LAYING in state.&uot; WRONG! When someone is dead, he can’t lay anything. People lay bricks, they lay books down or they lay down babies, but dead people can not lay anything anywhere any more. Ronald Reagan’s body was lying in state. CORRECT!

&uot;He LIES &uot;means that he tells things which are not true or that &uot;he LIES DOWN or rests.&uot; Both are correct. &uot;HE LAYS DOWN&uot; is wrong. &uot;He is LAYING DOWN now&uot; is WRONG. Instead, he lays down the law, or he is laying out his plans. Both are correct.

A pronoun error that really bothers me deals with a subject joined by AND. &uot;Johnny and ME WENT to a move.&uot; ME didn’t go to a movie. Johnny and MYSELF WENT to a movie.&uot; MYSELF didn’t go. &uot;Johnny and I went.&uot; CORRECT! I want to the movie. Take the sentence apart.

Look at the pronoun another way. &uot;The gift was FOR HIM AND I.&uot; Take the sentence apart. The gift was NOT for I. The gift was FOR ME. CORRECT! It was for him and me.

I’m sure that some readers have gone to sleep, and others have turned the page because today very few people care about correct English usage. The evidence is everywhere. But if my friend and teacher Bob Brown were alive, he would call me to tell me five additional errors that drive him nuts.

Mr. Brown, this column is for you for one simple reason. You cared, and you weren’t an English teacher. By the way, Mr. Brown taught music, so the people at the Tupperware party would have talked to him without pause.

However, no one there would have known that Bob Brown was the Grammar Police Chief, who was on duty 24 hours a day every day. Mr. Brown, I SURE do miss you! (Should I say SURELY?) Yeah, for sure.