We saw what you wrote; we know who you are
The streets will be deserted tonight. Windows will be dark, doors locked and double-locked. Hurried meals will be eaten in darkness. Telephones will ring unanswered. Children will be told to keep away from windows. And the fretful will lie awake on their beds, trembling at the thought of what the morning will bring.
Tomorrow dawns National Grammar Day.
Some will have nothing to fear. People who use ain’t in casual conversation will walk the streets unmolested. People who write all their e-mail to friends in lowercase letters, with punctuation in commas when there is punctuation at all, will not see their message traffic interrupted. Hip-hop musicians, both professional and amateur, and teenagers who use texting slang in conversation will — OMG! OMG! — not feel the hand of authority clamp on their shoulders.
But others, and their whereabouts are known, will be weighed in judgment and found wanting. Bureaucrats who pile noun modifier upon noun modifier upon noun to confuse the public. College students who think that standard spelling is merely an option for their papers. Perpetrators of misplaced modifiers. Reporters who have never mastered its/it’s or who/whom. English teachers who have perpetuated nonsensical and non-idiodmatic “rules” of grammar and usage. Composition teachers who encourage their students in expression while ignoring the traditions of grammar and rhetoric. For them, the sands are running out.
Trained grammarians, copy editors of the green eyeshade, wielders of the sharp pencil, precisionists of usage, excisers of verbiage, have waited for years in their redoubts for the arrival of this day. They are prepared.
There will be opposition, and the unlearned will have unexpected support from the learned. From rooftops, insurgents from Language Log and other centers of the Linguistics Party will fire upon the copy editors on patrol. Success in the mission is by no means certain.
But it is a start. The hosts are on the move.
A note from the author
I am scheduled to be a guest tomorrow on Dan Rodricks’ Midday program on WYPR, 88.1 FM, Baltimore, during the 1 p.m.-2 p.m. segment. Don’t miss this opportunity to call in and abuse me.