To, Too, Two

I’m so lame. It seems that I too commit the very transgressions that I so disdain in others. I’m a snob. How two-faced of me. To the end that I might explain myself, I offer these thoughts…

These past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to try living in a more humane and loving way. I try to see things from alternate perspectives when it comes to daily life events – events that otherwise I might interpret as offensive. I try to live with forgiveness and not take life too personally. I try to just let things be. While I have achieved some small success in these areas, somehow I find it incredibly difficult to apply the same level of forgiveness when it comes to the simple, grammatical mistakes people make. The omission of an ‘o’ when the writing requires a ‘too’ (as in also) rather than a ‘to’ (as in towards). I see ‘by’ instead of ‘buy’ and I think ‘Pfft. Can you imagine they missed that?’ And yet, the permanence of the blogosphere will never let me forget my own mistake; my misuse of the word ‘by’ at the top of yesterday’s post will forever remain thus in some far-off servers, unreachable by my post-post correction. Ultimately, it’s not that important. But it does teach me a little lesson. Humility, Elizabeth, humility. See? It’s very easy to make such a mistake yourself. You must overlook the small mistakes of others as you would have them do for you. Or must I?

There is one error that gets me absolutely riled up every time I see it. It’s when folks say that they’ve ‘graduated high school’. I can almost hear my seventh grade LA teacher Mrs. GaNun explaining to us in her rich, deep voice while striding slowly, dramatically across the room in her long skirts and topknot bun, that ‘you cannot graduate a high school because graduate is an intransitive verb…’ In other words, you can no more graduate a school than you can sleep a bed. You can sleep in a bed, you can graduate from a school. Yet the best-educated among us continue to tell us that they ‘graduated college’…

Another one that gets me is the improper use of personal pronouns. This one is everywhere. Simply everywhere. People who really should know better make these mistakes. I shudder, I bite my tounge. There was a time when I’d correct gently; ‘did me and Bob go to the store or did Bob and I go to the store?’ Just removed ‘Bob’ and say it again. Me went to the store or I went to the store? Duh! How easy is that? And btw – the ‘other guy’ goes first (I always think of it as simple manners) – ‘Bob and I went…’ It aint just the Latinas from the hood making this mistake either. All across the country ‘me and him went’ or ‘me and Bob took the car’….

And the offense that most easily gets under my skin – one I’ve even seen more than a few times in the past twenty four hours – is the addition of an ‘apostrophe s’ in order to make something plural. Yeeks. (Or should I say ‘yeek’s..?). I’ll not say anything more on this one. !

I’ve wrestled with this whole subject for years. On one hand, these are basic mistakes, and they should be corrected.The ones who made the errors should be educated, enlightened, corrected. Or should they? I am very aware that language evolves. Mr. Shakespeare’s English was practically another language altogether. And when’s the last time you heard a construction like this: ‘the laundry having been folded, she washed the dishes’..? Yet I remember well that first sentence of my junior high Latin class; ‘the Gauls having been conquered, they returned home’. Correct, but would you speak like this? Not so much.

There’s what was once correct, what is technically correct, and then there is plain old what works. What gets the point across. What expresses. Granted, we need to share some of the same rules in order to communicate effectively, but man, the liberties we’re able to get away with now really do add to the complexity and nuance with which we can communicate. ‘WTF?’ is just what you need sometimes, right? The limitation of characters we’re allowed to use has forced some new craft into writing, and I think that’s exciting. And sometimes a colon with a right parenthesis just does what no words can (and yes, its overuse can also spoil the effect). I get a kick out of the changes I’ve seen in our language in the past few decades. I think it’s amazing, beautiful, artful and organic. I also feel lucky to have been born now. In my lifetime I have witnessed probably the largest leap the English language has ever taken in such a short amount of time. I fully appreciate the freedom the new world provides – I misuse quotation marks all the time. I actually choose to do so because I feel it imparts a different tone. (I realize a real-life editor might well feel differently about this.) I make considered mistakes as a means to further shape my writing. Yeah, I dig the changes and maybe I just gotta get with the mistakes that are now becoming accepted parts of our language.

Then again, there’s that little voice that tells me there is still a set of rules which we should all honor. The rules that we all learned in school. You know, the schools we graduated from. Wait, we’re not supposed to end sentences with a preposition, right? Sigh…

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