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Posted: August 17, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Still in the habit of correcting grammar

Douglas McArthur quoted an old barracks song in a speech to Congress, saying, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

I've decided after this weekend that old English teachers don't fade away, they just keep correcting people.
I tried to order something online and ended up chatting with a service representative. With my computer skills, this is not unusual. I always need help. The nice young lady told me that what I wanted to order would be alright. I knew even as my fingers were typing that I should not send this message. But old habits die hard. I told her that alright was not a word and the correct wording was all right.

The next day I was babysitting two of my granddaughters, and the younger one said something about the liberry. Without even thinking, I said there is no such place as the liberry. There is a library. Boy, I bet if there are any of my former students reading this, they can attest that they heard those same two sentences at least 50 times or more in a year.

I also used to go on tirades about ink pens. If you listen carefully, there is a difference between the pronunciation of "pin" and "pen." Asking the teacher if the exercise had to be written in pen is sufficient. The only other pen I know of holds farm animals. And then there is the always popular with young girls, "I am going to lay out in the sun." That sentence paints such a picture in my mind. I have to remind them that they are going to lie in the sun and that only chickens lay.

It seems that once you get into the swing of correcting grammar, you just can't stop. One time I went through the drive through (notice I did not say thru) of a local bank just to tell the teller that the flashing sign display contained Santa Claus misspelled. He was spelled Santa Clause. She was somewhat taken aback, but the sign was corrected.

One friend of mine (and English teacher) was in a local grocery store just before Mother's Day and noticed cookies for mothers with the following written in frosting - "Mom, your great!" (For those who are grammatically challenged, it should be you're.) She pointed out the error and demanded that all the cookies be taken up immediately. I don't believe it happened.

My sister, also a retired English teacher, took umbrage at a certain commercial for orange juice which came in a carton and advertised that it had less calories. She called the company which packaged the orange juice and explained that grammatically it had fewer calories and demanded that they recall the commercial and correct it. They sent her a coupon for the orange juice but did not change the commercial.

So why do we English teachers continue to strive for grammatical correctness against insurmountable odds?
Someone once told me that the French have a governmental agency that monitors the language to make sure it remains pure. Maybe English teachers are trying to function as that bureau for English. But it is a delaying action. Look what happened to "can" and "may." And what about "shall" and "will" to distinguish between futurity and determination?

And, OMG, I haven't even begun to address text speak.
But I encourage teachers to carry on. Watch your grammar and the grammar of those around you. Please explain to young people that there are situations when slang is acceptable. But, and this is a big but, they need to know when to use slang and when to use a more formal style of speaking.

Just as sloppy dress inhibits their ability to be taken seriously, so does sloppy grammar.


Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at ptravis@covnews.com.

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