Common Usage

Do you wonder when it’s common usage mistakes or just someone being picky? I’m a writer and I have above average grammar skills. I know a few grammarians who still correct a few things about my usage (like ending sentences with prepositions) that may be part of common speech patterns, especially in my geographical area, but overall I can construct decent sentences and I use the proper word.

Some words are more difficult to use properly than others. Is it picky to make certain you use the proper form of lie or lay? How about your and you’re (and yore)? Their, there, and they’re? It’s and its? Affect and effect?

Do you wonder how long it will be before these words are indistinguishable?

Is it really that difficult to know which word you’re supposed to use? Does it matter?

From dictionary.com’s entry for “your”:

—Usage note
In American English the pronoun you has been supplemented by additional forms to make clear the distinction between singular andplural. You-all, often pronounced as one syllable, is a widespread spoken form in the South Midland and Southern United States. Its possessive is often you-all’s rather than your. You-uns (from you + ones ) is a South Midland form most often found in uneducated speech; it is being replaced by you-all. Youse  ( you  + the plural -s ending of nouns), probably of Irish-American origin, is most common in the North, especially in urban centers like Boston, New York, and Chicago. It is rare in educated speech. You guys  is a common informal expression among younger speakers; it can include persons of both sexes or even a group of women only. See also
me.

This doesn’t even count the random variations like my mother-in-law’s “youze guys”. She wasn’t Irish, I swear.

So when the dictionary says “it’s rare in education speech,” they’re not counting anything on Facebook, right? And while it’s terribly rude to tell someone about those typos – deliberate or not – it sets teeth on edge for those of us who use the words properly.

And even some of us who don’t.

Do you ever wonder what the words you use say about you? They can tell where you’re from, how much education you have, and quite a bit more that I don’t recall off the top of my head. It’s one reason speech writers have jobs – to give public figures the words they need to get a point across without sounding like their normal selves. Interesting, huh?

Luckily, I’m a fiction writer, so I get to plop all kinds of words into character’s mouths to make them sound like the real people they are, or whatever other point I’m attempting to make at the time.

Basic Skills

How often, as adults, do we get tests of our skills?

I’m not necessarily talking about the things we do for a living, though as a writer I get my English tested every time I chat with a copy editor friend of mine. (Thanks, Sarah.) I’ve also played Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. The nice thing about those games is it doesn’t feel like you’re stretching your brain while you play.

But since Sarah moved to Germany, I no longer get to IM her constantly when I have a grammar question or ten. English grammar really isn’t that easy. Sure, there are other sites I can go to that will tell me where to use a semi-colon or how to spell a word.

Some of those sites even offer quizzes, but while it keeps your skills up it doesn’t exactly offer a baseline on knowledge. It’d be the same answers if you took it tomorrow, so how else do we make it random?

I started wondering because, since I tutor, I’m taking the practice exam to be ready to help a couple students through it. It’s definitely an odd feeling to be re-taking it after all these years. I wonder if it will correctly identify how well I’ll do my first year of college now…

Yeah, I doubt it, too.

“Use it or lose it” is a common phrase. So if we don’t use that wonderful knowledge we used to know, it’s gone, right? Kind of? I always heard the half-life of knowledge is four years. [Provided you don’t use the skills.] So, after four years, you know half as much as you did. After eight years, you know a quarter. After twelve years, you’re down to one-eighth.

No wonder I recall very little French. I studied that sixteen years ago, and it really doesn’t come up often. Chemistry, on the other hand, I have studied more recently, plus I get to tutor the subject. A lot of it is now close to the forefront of my mind.

Does it help me write? I’m not sure. But an active mind keeps thinking, and my mind turns it into creative something-or-other.

I’m still on the lookout for more things to soak up, knowledge-wise. Stay tuned for more random knowledge-builders. (And don’t be afraid to link some for me in the comments.)

Grammar

It shouldn’t amaze me about the mistakes plastered everywhere. Facebook  is full of errors that make me cringe, and I’ve come to expect that from the majority of the users. People who can’t tell a plural from a possessive seems the least of the concern there. Typos multiply like rabbits and there are a few posts I have serious trouble reading.

I know I’m a writer and somewhat snobby where grammar is concerned, but my Twitter page has fewer errors. (Probably because I’ve been following writers, a few friends who know how to string a sentence together, and some publishing professionals.)

What is it about a public page that people feel free to express themselves but don’t care enough to be understood?

Then I think about it, and I truly hope that the masses don’t degrade the language farther that an apostrophe may be used to make a word plural, exchange you’re and your as if they mean the same thing, and drop random letters if they don’t match the pronounced word.

I’m a snob. I’ll admit it. My grammar isn’t perfect, but I do my best and I appeal to higher knowledge bases when I have questions.

Editors

A magazine asked for editors on Twitter, and several people passed it on. Great thing about Twitter – I have food for thought.

Requirements include excellent language and grammar skills, which makes sense. How does one prove this on a resume? I bet prior editing experience would be good. What else? If you have no experience, how would you get there?

I have a friend whose grammar is stellar. She always corrects my Midwestern turns of phrase which leaves prepositions at the end. While I have some quirks, my grammar isn’t horrible. That said, I couldn’t prove it on a resume. Gee, I’ve had more calculus classes than most English majors think exist, but not a single literature course in college. Rhetoric fulfilled a requirement; we never talked about how to use the language. Somehow I ended up a writer anyway. Not that being a writer necessarily means great grammar or spelling or even good use of language. It helps. It separates the mediocre from the good and the great.

That still leaves me with how I’d prove it on a resume. I think the short answer is, I can’t.