Thursday, December 13, 2007

Paying the Syntax

As is obvious to anyone who knows me for more than 5 minutes, I love words. I love the sound of them, the meanings of them, the texture and taste of them. I love knowing where they came from, digging into their roots. I love playing with them.

"There ought to be a whole separate language, she thought, for words that are truer than other words - for perfect, absolute truth."
~Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

I get teased for saying, "no worries," rather than, "no problem." I like "no worries" better, not because I work for an Australian based company, or because I have an Australian expatriate for a brother, but because it's got better meaning. It means, "don't sweat it," whereas "no problem" could imply that there was going to be an issue, but I can (grudgingly) deal with it.

I've been accused of being a walking dictionary. I'm one of those people that everyone comes to and says, "Hey, how do you spell (insert word here)?" My response, because my memory banks have been breached and scavenged over the years, is "Well, I spell it (insert spelling), but that doesn't mean it's correct." I belong to a couple of message boards, and there have been a few times when I'll get going on an idea and someone will say, "Oh, hang on... Barb's here. I gotta go get my dictionary."

Truth is, I'm not all that smart. It's just a lifetime accumulation and culmination of reading and retaining, and of my mother drumming vocabulary, spelling and grammar into me as a kid. (Thanks Mom - [*rolls eyes*] - you were right.) Granted, English was my best subject in school - to me, parsing sentences was like doing puzzles. When one of my high school English teachers turned me on to poetry, I felt liberated - I could take an entire emotional event and whittle it down into a bouillon cube of thought. What a time-saver!

"A poem should touch the hearer with a sense of his own weakness, and should institute some comparison between mankind and flowers."
~E.M. Forrester

I find that people often apologize to me for their lack of spelling prowess or bad grammar. It's true, the improper use of some words, such as there, their and they're; or to, too, and two; or your and you're will drive me nuts. However, I have family members who can't get it straight and I love them just the same. I'm not here to grade anyone's papers! I'm my own worst editor - it keeps me too damned busy to deal with anyone else's lexical challenges. I can channel Ms. Malaprop with the best of 'em (I once told a boss I was going to sue him for worker's constipation), and I can dangle participles like so many bulbs on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
That being said, I got the following email from a client last week. I simultaneously cringed and laughed so hard that it nearly had me dizzy. Keep in mind that this is from a business owner, who very likely could afford to put spell-check on her PC, and yes, English is her first language: "I have faxed and tryed to call twice in the last todays. I am trying to find out about a tag It was sent on 11/28/07. There was 3 sent on that day. Only two were gotten. I recent this one on 12/03/02 (Note from Barb: Impressive! a time traveler) Please let me know if it was gotten and if it was sent out?"

Oh, the glorious agony.

I once heard John ask a kid how he was. The kid answered cheerfully, "I'm superfluous!" He told the kid we really hoped he didn't mean that - everyone's got a reason to be.

"The difference between the right word and almost the right word, is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug."
~Mark Twain

Wordplay. Nothing gets me giggling harder than wordplay. My oldest brother excels at it, and he's so doggone dry about it that you'll never see it coming. One time we saw a woman walking down the sidewalk and she had a pair of scissors dangling from a cord around her neck. My brother's ex said, "I wonder why she's wearing scissors like that." Mike's deadpan answer was, "So she can cut across the street."

Reminds me of my first job at an orange juice factory. I was fired because I couldn't concentrate... *ahem*

Read the dictionary from A to Izzard today.
Get a vocabulary. Brush up on your diction.
See whether wisdom is just a lot of language.
~Carl Sandburg,
Is Wisdom a Lot of Language?
My advice... never use big words where a diminutive utterance will suffice.


  1. Okay, I will take your advice, "shit"! That covers it all!!
    Love ya buddy

  2. Spoken like a true Tonto!

    Love ya right back, my friend...

  3. agree with you so much.. and try spelling English in Turkish... ya know what I mean! the problem with grammer, voc and spelling is we learn from our parents! The Good, Bad & Ugly! Tim, has that way about him.. you quickly talk anything to him! I hear John everyday you write.

  4. me again... just turned on the TV so many time now you hear well educated people say" me and my cousin, me and my .... " that is what drives me crazy!!!!! fingers scraping on the blackboard kind of crazy!! What are they teaching in school?

  5. Aw, thanks Vik! I once accused JJ of eating my words and spitting them back out - maybe it's my turn.

    I'm guilty of abusing the "me" rule, but I do know better. For me it's a Michigan colloquialism deal. So, when are "you n' me" havin' dinner, Island Girl?!

    HnK back,


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