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Wisers Wramblings: Grammar’s Grammar Groans


By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels

Given the seriousness of the situation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine I decided to split my typical Thursday offerings surrounding the day with the serious topic one day and the more frivolous today.

I have often marveled at our language, its complexities, nuances, and some of the humor hidden therein. Along with a few other areas of my career path not followed and my employment history I might have considered becoming an English teacher had an early education been in the cards. I think I might have taken a non-traditional track in my educational offering’s however. Rather than spend four years teaching things including “dangling participles” and “conjugated verbs” along with telling me what they thought a poet was really saying, and meant instead of what he actually did say in writing, I would have taken a narrower approach.

Traditional (50 years ago) education has been challenged more recently by those who feel “career oriented” topics should be given more credence than when the Magna Carta was signed, or, how to substitute “X” for a real number in Algebra.

I’m not sure where I learned it or when I developed this trait, but I judge the grammar that I am using (or hearing) when I speak by “how it sounds”, and what I am writing by “how it looks”. For some reason my ear picks up on an incorrectly, or grammatically stated, term like “I seen” as opposed to the proper “I have seen” or “I saw.” When people, and this is predominantly done in “Coach speak”, say “I gotta” or “we gotta”, it grates on me. Somehow, they never learned the proper “I have to”. “I got a…” means that you acquired something. “I have to…” is something that you are required or strive, to do.

Those two examples are probably the most common grammatical errors, as spoken. “I seen” also carries over into written statements. Speech “habits” like Ummm, or “You know” are likely more noticeable but often are just used habitually. They are probably not officially grammatical errors but rather just speech habits used to help us collect our thoughts, you know. That “you know” I just used is another. Being very conscious of speaking habits like that when I was lecturing to a class, and in an attempt to correct myself to prevent doing that, I challenged my students to monitor the frequency of repeating a term or phrase several times and to let me know if I was doing it. Some took that as a challenge, hoping for extra credit points, but I sincerely hope that it did not distract them from the materials being taught.

Somewhere along the line, someone should have been correcting those spoken grammar mistakes. I know, we all think it’s rude to point out those errors. If picked up on early in life, perhaps those habitual errors could have been corrected. I pride myself on my grammar and vocabulary, but to this day still make mistakes. One such mistake, pointed out to me during my high school days 60 years ago, was instrumental in showing the importance of learning the words, and proper use of them. I was visiting our school nurse Mrs. Lillian Norton, having gone there for some ailment or other. I can’t remember what I was talking about but I used the word “Infamous” and pronounced it as “in famous” with the “A” pronounced as a “long vowel sound”. The nurse pointed out my error and suggested the correct pronunciation “infamous” with the “a” vowel as a soft vowel. I guess you could call that a “soft vowel movement”.

The major component of the difficulty and challenges of our language is mostly hidden when used in verbal speech. There are so many words that sound the same but are spelled differently. They are called Homophones (I had to look up the term to be sure). Adding to that problem are the words that are are spelled the same but are pronounced differently? They are called Homographs. Good or bad I guess, both of these types of words with similarity, usually have different meanings. I do not envy anyone trying to learn our language or teach it.

They do teach some “tricks”, at least when I went to school, to help us differentiate or keep separate some of these puzzling words or the meanings of other types of confusing words. Here are some examples that I recall. The rules or tricks are to help choose the correct spelling or usage.

  • Piece vs Peace: I have a piece of pie
  • Piece: Arrangement of the vowels: “I” before “E” except after “C” (Receipt)
  • Use of “I” vs “Me” in, or to begin a phrase. Take one out and substitute the other. It should not “sound right” if you are using the wrong one
  • My Favorite(s). I have a hard time understanding why it is so difficult for some remembering which one is to be used where, at least as far as the number “Two”,  and which “Their” is proper.

          –  “Two” is the number    – “To” is a destination or action    –  “Too” means also (me too)

     •    There, Their, They’re: My head knows these but my typing fingers don’t always respond.

           –  “Their”:  people or things,   –  “There”: There we go, going there   –  “They’re”: They are

     •    Brake vs Break: Brakes are on a car or bike. Break, is the damage, or to take some time off

     •    Steak vs Stake. You can put a stake in your steak to hold it down while you cut it for eating.

     •    Effect and Affect: Similar words that change as to whether “causing” or “caused by”.                                          

Less than two weeks til St. Pat’s!! Get your green gear here!

My spelling has suffered with age and I cannot always recall the proper or correct spelling of some words. The ones that end with an “ely” or “aly” are particularly troublesome as are the words with the “E” vowel versus the “A” vowel, and or when to double up a consonant, especially if two possible places occur in a word like “occasionally”, or “successfully”. I lucked out, I think, and got those both correct the first time through. Word processors can, or will, give you a warning if you make a mistake. You can try different combinations until the error markings disappear or as I often do, keep your phone or Kindle Fire handy so you can ask Mrs. Google.

Taking pride in my Grammar in general, and especially spelling and vocabulary, I am very disappointed when a forced error slips through, and even more so now that I am privileged to share my written words. I diligently check (proofread) my Wellsville Sun and Hornell Sun articles, but errors do sneak through sometimes. I do apologize for those instances.

Slightly off track from the topic of grammar, but still related are forms/venues for affecting “typed” materials. These plague me especially these days. “Autocorrect” comes in different flavors and may or may not be controllable. I dub them Autodetect (point out your errors but let you change), “Autocorrect” (Change a misspelling automatically, usually) and “Autodefect” – “Autoassume”, which anticipates what it thinks you are going to type and slips it in there when you are typing without watching the screen. These last two have caused a number of embarrassing typing gaffes which could actually be harmful or insulting to the reader.

It adds to this “keyboarding or writing problem” if you do your typing on a cell phone. Your typing fingers, or especially thumbs, span the width of two or three letter or number keys. Additionally, certain letters, especially frequently used vowels and commonly used neighboring consonant letters are placed next to each other often leading to “touching” the wrong letter. This causes typing delays for those of us that are mindful of, or conscientious about, what we are typing, forcing us to backup and retype or reinsert. Another phenomenon occurs when typing on a handheld device. I’ve mentioned this one before but “parallax” vision (accidently seeing off to the side of where you are looking causes you to touch the letter key next to the one intended.   

I offer the following frivolity, with apologies for the uneven, non-syncopated rhythms. I do what is due even in the dew.

My Grammer’s Grammar Hammer

My Grammer had a grammar hammer, and with it taught me tense.

Past and present, future too would lurk nearby in tents.

I’ve seen a saw and I saw a scene that cost me fifty cents.

“I seen you there” and “I gotta win” just doesn’t make much sense.

 Choose “to” or “too”, or two, which, where or wear,

They’re just as bad as there or their.

The deer are so dear when on Santa’s rein,

And I hear when you’re here or even in the rain.

I can leave to pick up leaves, if it’s bright sunny weather

Who knows if I should, or just wonder whether?

“I” before “E” except after “C” are grammar rules my eye sees

But albeit being weird, that a glacier our rules could then seize

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