Friday, September 30, 2011

299! Grammar Spelling and the lies that Follow

For those of you who have read any substantially large piece of my writing you will notice that I have pretty terrible grammar. Most times I clean up the spelling as I go but there are times when I don't and that ugly secret is revealed as well. I find that most of the time I can improve my spelling based on how I pronounce the words inside my head but the grammar that is one of those things that just sticks around. I've tried my best to improve it over the years but I can't seem to manage it. It just bounces off of me like it isn't even there. The more complex the thought I am trying to express the worse it gets. There are times where I write some pretty complex things too so it gets pretty depressing.

Pretty depressing but not so depressing as watching Grammar nazies frollick. Grammar nazies depress me. They are the sort of people who you can hand a 10 page piece of beautifully written prose and and the only thing they will say about it is that you missed a comma here or there. This goes further.

This is also where this topic came from. One of the biggest problems most people have with writing is that they are, first, afraid if it is good or not, then they are afraid it is right. To defend themselves against the second of these two arguements they make arguments similar to the one I am writting now except that it sound exactly like, "The english language is a mess, I am writing fiction, I don't have to care about grammar". While all of that is true to a point things like tense shifting and what not is something that is worth paying atension to. So it goes.

Part of the problem is that they are right. The other part of the problem is that they are also wrong and these are things that need to be adressed. And so I am going to do that now.

Spelling. Spelling is kind of its own thing and it is weird. For the longest time there was no standardized spelling. The first dictionary wasn't written until 1827 when Noah Webster decded to sit down and make the english language a little bit more boring. Now while the first dictionary was around in 1827 they were not widely used until MUCH later. Up until that point people would alter the spellings of certain words to add emphasis. An example would be spelling especially expecially. The x sound becomes harsher indicating a higher degree of urgency. Neat! This is also a time where people wrote more in form of letters and daily journal entries.

Now lets think about this for a minute. Setting aside the irony that Webster's first name is Noah. A man sat down one day and just decided how everything was going to spelled from then on. Now don't get me wrong Webster was a bad ass. He is probably one of the most underlooked historical figures in our United States history. Noah laid the foundation for the copywrite laws, started the first new york news paper, and he was one of the leading abolitionists oh and to write the dictionary he learned 26 languages. Like I said the guy was a bad ass they just don't make them like webster any more no siree. Still that doesn't erase the point that one day this man sat down and decided that this is the way we were going to spell everything from then on. It is kinda crazy and while I don't paticularly agree with it, it is worth respecting.

Sure we loose some of the magic of the written word but this isn't quite where things have gone wrong yet. Things went wrong when a variety of things happened all a the same time. THis is the sort of thing that needs a name but it doesn't have one. This is also the sort of thing that I wish I knew more about but finding and reading books on the evolution of the western intellectual tradition is probablly one of the most boring things I could ever think to do. However, at one point in the early 20th century people tried to make literary interpretation, grammar, and the arts in general more like a science. This is where things started to wrong. To put it differently this marks the rise of the grammar nazies.

The double negative rule in grammar? Where when you put two negative words together and it equals a postive word? That is a hold over from the movement where they tried to make language more like a science, or math in this particular case. As a result rules upon rules came out dictating how sentences are to be formed, where commas are and are not to be used flooded into school books and things got a little bit more structured.

Running concurrently with this was the New Criticims literary criticism movement. These people were weird. The goal of new criticism was to strip away personal biases, authorial intent and focus solely upon how the work is written. The goal is to come up with the best unified interpretation of a work. So basically when we all read the same we can all think the same. Creepily enough the specter of this movement is still around today from elementary to high school.

So essentially most of the rules of grammar and formal writing styles are from a movement designed to force us all to think the same. Okay cool. WT fuck.

Over my time I have learned that the grammer nazi usually has pleanty to say about how something is written but then in turn has nothing to say. A classic case of to much form and not enough function. However, there is there are the ideas that we need to learn the rules before we break them, that we need to say things the right way, that correct grammar is better than incorrect grammar, et cetera ad nausium. As a result creativity gives way to correctness and on it goes. How can someone truely enjoy somehting if all they are going to do is to focus on the insignifigant. It makes mountains out of molehills or if you prefer less drama it is distracting.

Part of the reason why National Novel Writting Month excists is that, assuming you are an amature like me, you will write at such a speed that you simply don't have time to worry about things like grammar or quality. The goal is to just write and to get as much done as possible.

So why is it all nessisary? Well for the essay. Most people will go through their entire formal education without being told what exactly an essay is for. An essay is a form that allows you to express thoughts that are to complex to merely be expressed orally or free writing like this. Essays are usually writen, then rewritten, then revised some more. Some essays are there to answer complex questions and other essays are to explain complex issues in such a way so that they can be understood. They pull together information from a wide variety of sources, and synthasize them together to form a complex whole. It may not seem like that when you are in school and you are just smearing words across a page as fast as possible to meet a deadline bu it is true. It isn't something you usually realize until you finally bite off more than you can chew and you tackle your first real and truely overly complex issue and you realize that there is no way you'd be able to explain it without writing an essay first.

It is in these situations that formalized writting shines and it goes from being annoy to absolutely essential.

So what do we do?

Well assuming anyone is still reading at this point the answer is balance. It is to understand that grammar has a place in our writing. But it needs to be recognized as a tool. It needs to be understood that there are both benifits and drawbacks to grammar and that both need to be understood if we are to progress, creativly unstiffled into a better tomarow.

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