Today is my very favorite holiday. I’ve sent out cards to all my family members and friends, hired a caterer and a band for my party, and even had t-shirts printed to wear all day long to mark the occasion because it’s really weird that I couldn’t find any festive shirts at the store. This is the one day a year on which English teachers can let their collective hair down and cut loose a little.
March 4th is National Grammar Day, twenty-four brief hours that are dedicated to the purest enjoyment of language. Or at least showing each other that we speak it better than the rest of the country.
First of all, we’re not an elitist group. You are free to celebrate the grammar of any language you choose, not just English. Just make sure you use it correctly. I happen to be partial to Italian because there are only about twenty-six grammar rules and they are all-encompassing and unchanging; there are also no pesky “sometimes” silent letters to trip you up. But by merit of my occupation I’ll have to select some other day to celebrate all things first-cousined to Latin.
My Grammar Day party is going to be the “it” place to be. English-language A-listers from all over will arrive via limousine and walk the red carpet that I set up in my driveway. While Joan Rivers will not be commentating from the sidelines in my yard, I will have six wardrobe changes throughout the evening.
We’ll start with drinks and mingling before getting down to the business of competition. Obviously there will be a spelling bee to break the ice, but I’m thinking that we should have an Alternate Spelling Bee, in which I call out your word and you have to give me all of the recognized alternate spellings. Then there’s the timed event, in which you have to turn around thirty sentences in thirty seconds so that they no longer end in a preposition. Good times!
On to the poetry. While there are literally both a national poetry competition and a short fiction writing competition to go along with National Grammar Day, my party has an added caveat: all of your entries must be about grammar and still be riveting.
I am cutting out the Sentence Diagramming Charades event after last year’s argument over whether the adverb should have gone above or below the line. Regrettably, alcohol consumption had gone up just before that event and it turned ugly. Feel free to drink in excess this year, I’ll make sure you have a safe ride home. Just don’t split an infinitive.
Shut up. I am not a nerd. I happen to get paid fairly well to have this much fun with words. Sadly, the love of grammar is not the nationwide phenomenon you might think. Between “text speak” and advertisers vying for our every dollar with catchy attempts to stand out (I will never use Yahoo again after they recently used the word “funnest” in an ad campaign, please everyone join the boycott), our language is crumbling at its loosely diagrammed foundation.
The interesting thing is I would venture that people today, especially young people, speak and write more than previous generations. With the advent of email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Beebo, Scutterbutt, Digginit, Ploofenshout (okay, I’m starting to make some of these up as I go along), people actually create the spoken or written word more than they did before these applications made it so easy to get a message out. Unfortunately, they’re pooping in the grammar potty along the way, demolishing all things right in the world with every invented spelling of common words.
One aspect of teaching English that I’ve always despised is teaching Shakespeare. Excuse me while I duck under my desk to prevent being hit with random objects lobbed at me right now by other English teachers. But my young students hate it and Shakespeare himself isn’t too thrilled with how we teach it. Yes, the man was a genius and his work is timeless, but even he never intended for his plays to be read by anyone and yet, we force students to basically translate his works because language has changed so much in the four hundred-odd years since he wrote. Most of his audience and quite a number of his actors couldn’t read it, so why should a fifteen-year-old who actually has a copy of the state driver’s license exam book hidden inside his Julius Caesar text have to read it? Teach it as it was intended…by watching it! C’mon people, it’s a play! Why don’t we all just skip the next Matt Damon movie and buy copies of the script to enjoy at home???
I’m glad I got that tirade over with, because now I can tell you what I love about grammar. You think I’m going to tell you that the pure art of words flowing across a page is my entire reason for living, or that the English language is actually our history, a verbal family tree where different civilizations converged. Nope.
I love grammar because I’m better at it than you are.
What can I say? It’s my main skill, so don’t take this from me. I’m not an athlete with a Nike shoe deal or an Oscar-winning actress who could film a beet farm commercial and have people lined up to watch it. Forget dunking a basketball, something our society seems to find vitally important for some reason, I can’t even hit the rim with the ball. But if you need to form a coherent sentence, complete with descriptive modifiers and appropriate pauses, I’m your girl. More importantly, if you need it to sound really intelligent and not like you had the guy who sells tractor parts from the trunk of his car take dictation, give me a shout. But please don’t use ain’t when you call.
By the way, I intentionally placed three grammar errors in this post. Comment if you can find them and I will give you a gold star.