Who Am I to Tell You How to Write Correctly?

by Tina Blue
August 11, 2000

Are you wondering what qualifications I have for offering advice on grammar and usage?

       Well, I could direct you to my thirty years of teaching English at Kansas University (including English 359, "Advanced Grammar," before that course was discontinued as not cost-effective). But, actually, I don't recommend that you accept my years as an English teacher as proof of expertise on matters of grammar and usage (though maybe that advanced grammar course should count). The sad fact is that many English teachers, from grade school right up to the college level, don't know all that much about the grammar of the language or about the conventions that govern standard written English. Unfortunately, their ignorance is perpetuated in the deformed writing of their students.

I was born in 1950. No, that is not a non sequitur. My age is actually a more reliable credential than my degrees in English or my years of teaching composition and literature to college students, because when I went to school students were taught grammar by people who actually knew the subject, and we were required to learn it if we hoped to get a decent grade. That is why a mere high school graduate of my generation often has a better command of the conventions of spoken and written English than does a younger person with advanced degrees in English.

Even more important is the fact that I have made a study of matters of usage. I have read and collected more books on that subject than you want to hear about. Forgive me, but I actually enjoy reading those books. Studying how the conventions of usage relate to the grammatical structure of the language appeals to my analytical nature, and finding a way to demystify correct usage for the non-expert appeals to the teacher in me.

I hope this column on grammar and usage will help writers to correct errors that they really should not be making, while at the same time helping them to feel less threatened by the tyranny of the self-appointed grammar police. *

No doubt I could have given my website a cuter, catchier title, but I wanted to make sure that those people who want my help will know exactly where to go to find it.

As writers, language is your medium, just as paint is the medium of the painter. While I abhor prissiness, I do believe that a writer who wishes to be taken seriously needs to know how to use his medium correctly.
*Guess what! The Self-Appointed Grammar Police (SAGP) now have their own website (click here).  Mike Taylor has set up a tongue-in-cheek site that deals with grammar and usage errors committed not by private individuals, but by those who write for the public and really should know better.  His "case studies" provide examples of real-life errors that can serve as object lessons for those who want to avoid making errors of a similar type and thus risking arrest by the SAGP.
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