As we at “Get to The Point” learned long ago, people are passionate about grammar. Author Ellen Jovin learned this as she and her husband traveled to 47 states to set up a small grammar table and hear passersby’s questions and complaints. For example, she met:
- A 23-year-old man in Decatur, Alabama, who exclaimed, “I really love grammar.”
- A man in Memphis who proclaimed, “We’re a grammar family.”
- A former academic journal editor in Middlebury, Vermont, who described her approach to grammar as “a little bit hardcore and overly picky.” (Actually, a lot of Jovin’s visitors described their approach to grammar as hardcore.)
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, As They Say in Hollywood
Jovin collected these experiences in her 2022 humorous book “Rebel With a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian.” Her husband recorded the interactions, and a documentary is in the works. COVID got in the way of visiting Hawaii, Alaska and Connecticut, but the couple promises to visit and record there as well.
The book includes 49 chapters drilling down on the most annoying grammar questions. “Get to the Point” has covered many of these topics, such as:
- Its Versus It’s
- Pesky Plurals
- Too Many or Not Enough Commas
- Use of Style Guides (including those by Bryan Garner — Garner’s newest book, “Garner’s Modern English Usage,” is scheduled for release on November 17).
But You’re a Lawyer
I take issue with some of Jovin’s more relaxed approaches to grammar, such as subject-verb agreement when there is ambiguity about whether the subject is singular or plural, and the use of the subjective case “I” versus the objective “me.”
As a lawyer, you are most often expected to write in a formal style. More importantly, you are trying to be persuasive. If you are presenting to one of those hardcore grammarians, your audience may see your detour from traditional grammar as just sloppy. And that can undermine your purpose.
There’s More Information About Grammar Than Ever Before
Our fascination with grammar is not new. Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty has been putting out entertaining podcasts and posts since 2006. A retired Princeton professor critiques major media’s grammar and usage errors on Twitter as @HenryWFowler, a handle honoring a style guide originally published in 1926. Ross Guberman @LegalWritingPro has tweeted about grammar as well as broader legal writing principles since 2009. You’ll find Ellen Jovin on Twitter as @grammartable.
Besides being entertaining, regular intake of information from resources like these can sharpen your awareness of potential grammar pitfalls. For lawyers, that’s a very good thing.
Bonus points if you identified lyrics from “In the End of Time” by Jack Black and Warren Fitzgerald, performed in the movie “School of Rock.”
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