Being a professional purveyor of words, meaning that I pay my bills by stringing together large groups of words into what appear as coherent thoughts to the naked eye, I like to put my work behind me at the end of the day and not think about it. Yet more often than not my lovely wife and I find ourselves sitting around the dinner table talking about everyone’s favorite topic: grammar. Indeed, we are grammar nerds.
Just the other night we found ourselves talking about whether or not articles should really be adjectives. “Heck no,” I said, “articles should be their own separate part of speech, completely distinct from adjectives!” My lovely wife’s response was, and I quote, “But there are only eight parts of speech.”
So create a ninth!
Classifying the article as an adjective only confuses the issue for those poor slobs in English class who have to diagram a sentence similar to, “The sad woman’s former husband’s brother became just one of many men to mysteriously disappear under the influence of the black widow.” In this sentence, the first ‘the’ is an article irrespective of the bad decisions of those men who chose to engage in a relationship with the sad woman who, by virtue of her questionable use of certain articles in certain ways, is being compared to a deadly spider.
As you can see, I have a real dilemma on my hands. With all of the trouble in the world my wife and I are content to talk about articles, adjectives and the proper placement of semicolons. We have even been known to strongly debate the use of commas in written text. And given that we are both paid authors, such debates can reach fever pitch when professional reputations are on the line.
At least we don’t have those other silly arguments over things like money and the kids. We’ve never had enough money to argue about, and as for the kids, they’re all grown up and gone now anyway. Arguing about how they live their lives is about as productive as debating the validity of Stephen Colbert being chosen to replace the irreplaceable David Letterman. Such a debate would have no logical conclusion and could, in theory, haunt us until our dying days.
Anyway, getting back to the grammar nerd thing, how does one know if he, she, or it is a grammar nerd? Here are a few litmus test questions that should provide some clues:
- Do you know what the Oxford comma is and how to use it?
- Can you explain why the Brits don’t like to use the Oxford comma despite its English-sounding name?
- Are the schwa and shwa one in the same? Better yet, are they legitimate linguistic components or a type of Chinese noodle used by interior decorators to achieve balance?
- Do you view semicolons as pretentious or vital to the correct use of English?
- Can you explain the difference between ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘two’, and Desmond Tutu?
- Why do Canadians and Brits have so much trouble with subject-verb agreement?
- Which would you rather do: diagram sentences or teach the average American athlete how to speak correctly?
- Is ‘like’ a generic, utility-based word that can, like, be used, like, just about anywhere in, like, a sentence?
- If I use ‘there’ when I should have used ‘their’, but nobody reads my column, is it still an error?
- How many licks does it really take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?
Give yourself one point for every correct answer. Score it anyway you like, then decide for yourself whether or not you are a grammar nerd. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Why? Because if you are a grammar nerd, you will most likely make your way through life without anyone else but your fellow nerds knowing the difference. While the existence of mainstream America consists mainly of texting things like ‘LOL’ and ‘c u later’, you and your nerd friends can enjoy lively discussions about important topics like predicate nominatives and their relation to copulas.
By the way, you are definitely a grammar nerd if you know what a copula is. If you’re not familiar with the copula, it’s well worth looking into when you have some free time on your hands. Trust me, you’ll never look at stative verbs the same way again.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare dinner. On tonight’s menu is a delectable assortment of grilled hot dogs, chips, sauerkraut, dill pickles and a frank discussion about how the lack of Oxford commas is ruining the art of list writing.