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Jewish Journal

Grammar Police

by Teresa Strasser

April 12, 2001 | 8:00 pm

My name is Teresa Strasser and I've made grammatical errors.

My story begins with a piece I wrote several months ago. Give me a second, I need to compose myself.

It's hard to admit this, even to a group as supportive and nurturing as you. Let me just take a deep breath. Okay, here goes. I used the phrase "My mother and I" when I should have said, "My mother and me." I'll be honest; I did this not once but twice in one column.

I can't tell you what a shame spiral I'm in. Did I just end that sentence with a preposition? Will I ever learn?

Numerous readers have sent me notes, admonishing me, chiding me, circling those two errors with red pens before stuffing the offending articles in envelopes with nasty notes.

It's not bad enough that I have to deal with the disappointment of my friends and family, my own searing sense of total inadequacy for making such obvious mistakes. Now, the Grammar Police are after me. We've all had our tangles with the Grammar Police, those rock-bottom moments when we've been busted, when we lose our great battle with the rules of the English language.

"Please review the rules of grammar. These errors are quite egregious," wrote one woman from Studio City, her anger manifest in her slashy handwriting.

It's been far too long since I've consulted the Good Book. And by that I mean Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." I've gone renegade and now I'm paying the price. Shut-ins all over this town are taking time out from entering sweepstakes and filing coupons alpha-numerically to inform me of my shortcomings.

I know it's for my own good. I understand that proper grammar only helps us to communicate our ideas more precisely, to preserve the integrity of our language.

Still, I must confess something to you here and now. I dislike the Grammar Police. I loathe their letters with the unbridled intensity of an angry poet on open mic night.

When you think about it, what is a grammar-corrector really saying? It all boils down to one simple insight: "I'm smarter than you!" I know we Jews are the People of the Book, but does that mean we have to keep throwing it at one another?

The Grammar Police deliver their little corrections with such glee. (My apologies for the qualifier, as Strunk and White call qualifiers such as "little" and "rather" the leeches that "infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.")

Maybe I'm sliding in my grammar recovery if I say this, but I feel I must. Don't these people ever make mistakes? Are they so perfect? Let he who has never dangled a participle throw the first stone!

I'd be remiss if at this point I didn't point out the difference between the casual corrector and the hardcore grammarian who takes the time to write. Let's face it, my fans aren't out there circling and sending. I get the sneaking suspicion that those who find fault with my grammar really just can't stand me. They're picking on my subject/verb agreement when the real problem runs much deeper.

It's like when your relationship is ending, and you can't stand your mate, but all that comes out is your over-wrought reaction to his parking, the soap he picked out, his loud chewing. You're nit-picking when what you should really do is break up.

When this most recent flood of letters came in, perhaps my anger was not so much at my own grammatical shortcomings, but at the subtext of the corrections. If you hate me, just feel free to lash out at me directly. I can take it. Okay, maybe not. Feeling the Grammar Police's disapproval of me, not just of my pronouns, I phoned a friend to vent.

"The Grammar Police won't leave me alone," I wailed. "They don't read my column for content. They read my column just hoping for a mistake so they can circle it and send it to me. It's like they're laying in wait."

He paused and said just one thing.

"That's 'lying' in wait."

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