Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Coming out & correcting grammar: Your Welcome

My mother was a high school graduate. My father was a high school dropout. We were not -- in any sense of the term -- educated people. So when a close cousin of the Clifford clan made it through college and got an English degree, it was Big News. Her graduation was followed by the equally big news that she had become, in just four short years, the smartest person in the room, at least any of the rooms located in Ferguson, Missouri. Twelve years older than me, she took to interrupting my grade-school self at family parties, pointing out my incorrect use of a singular pronoun or a plural verb.  I retreated to my room, thought dark thoughts, and planned how I'd do things differently if I ever managed to escape Missouri, and her.

Part of that plan is still in place today: I don't correct anyone's spoken grammar or pronunciation, ever, purely in recognition of my own basic humanity and the awareness that I, daily, am heaping up a pile of error that reaches to the rooftops. Even when someone asks me to proofread something they've written, I aim for a good mix of kindness to go with the accuracy.

But like so many people who, faced with anonymity, go a little bit rogue, I have to confess that I've penciled over typos in library books, written "Caesar!" in Sharpie on laminated menus, and defaced more than a small number of school and work posters.  My inner Delinquent-Grammarian strolled the halls of Southwest High School a few years ago, and this was the result, all in support of Coming Out with the proper possessive. Happy Coming Out Day, by the way, and keep your pencils handy.


Your Welcome: The Grammar Vandal Strikes Southwest High

Yes, officer, I did deface that poster in the halls of my daughter’s high school. But no jury in the world, as least one that knew the difference between possessives and contractions, would ever convict me.

Here’s what happened: Mary Katherine and I were killing time at intermission during a play. We saw a lovely four-color poster for National Coming Out Day (October 11! It just seems to come earlier every year. And I haven’t even wrapped my National Coming Out Gifts, or finished hanging the festive National Coming Out Day garlands!)

The poster encouraged everyone to celebrate that day by wearing a “name badge that identifies you’re orientation.”

Of course you can’t blame me for whipping out a ballpoint and changing the “you’re” to “your.” And yes, I did add just a teeny bit of editorial comment: “Good grammar is appropriate for all orientations.” Golly, that will learn ‘em.

Mary Katherine, by the way, thought all of this was great. It reminded me of one of her favorite games when she was small, which she invented and named, “Playing Hurdmans.” She’d loved the play, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and she was especially taken with the smoking, cursing, bullying delinquents of the piece, the Hurdmans. We’d finish Sunday breakfast and she’d beg, “Let’s Play Hurdmans.” The game involved her acting out crimes – setting fire to the cat was a popular one, as I recall – and me reacting with shock and horror. Even then, this girl knew that villains get the best parts.

So there we were in the hallway, me feeling like a cross between a pinch-faced librarian and Zorro, her laughing and egging me on. The minute I’d finished with my egregious act of vandalism, she turned to me, eyes shining. “Let’s deface something else before Act Two!” she urged, grinning wickedly. Turns out her orientation has been a closeted poster-defacer all these years, and it took this one bold move for her to come out.

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