Grammar Can Be Funny, But Not All Grammarians Are

By Linda Kruschke, Director of Legal Publications

This book review was originally written for the ACLEA (Association for Continuing Legal Education) newsletter called In the Loop. We are sharing it here today in celebration of National Grammar Day.

_________________

If you work in legal publications (or any type of publications for that matter), grammar is important. Whether you are a legal editor, a copy editor, or a proofreader, you have to be a little bit pedantic about grammar, punctuation, and style.

But sometimes you just like to focus on the humorous side of grammar (yes, there really is a humorous side of grammar!). Sometimes you like to read books like the classic Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Or sometimes you enjoy the humor in more traditional grammar texts like Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage by Bryan Garner.

When I was asked to write a book review for In the Loop, I decided it would be fun to share a different humorous grammar book with the ACLEA folks, one that the legal publications and seminars people could both appreciate. So imagine my delight when I discovered Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. I cracked it open (okay, I actually opened it on my Kindle, but don’t tell my fellow legal pubs folks) and started with the Note from the Author.

At the outset, Casagrande makes a distinction between grammar geeks—people who are fascinated by grammar and word usage—and grammar snobs—people who like to rub their superior grammar knowledge (which is apparently actually not that superior) in other people’s faces for spite. She claims to be the former, but proves quite early on in the book to be of the latter ilk.

Her mean-spirited attack of grammar gurus such as James Kilpatrick, Lynne Truss, and Bryan Garner, to name but a few, took me quite aback. It was not at all what I expected and not at all funny (at least not to me). In her first chapter, “A Snob for All Seasons,” she spends five pages attacking Kilpatrick as well as William Saffire. She ends with a single page on the grammar lesson of the chapter, using as an illustration a sentence involving a bug crawling up these grammarian’s butts. While the lesson was accurate on the use of “‘s” with compound subjects, it was hard to see through the unfunny language of the example.

In addition, she uses a fair amount of sexual humor in instances that are unwarranted and merely gratuitous. For example, in the discussion of the difference between “to lay” and “to lie,” she uses an example that involves police requiring suspects to “lay” rather than “lie” on the floor at a crime scene. Rather than focus on the everyday difference between these words, Casagrande homes in on the slang or vulgar meaning of the word “lay,” to have sexual intercourse. Her attempt at humor was lost on me and her lesson was not particularly helpful if one was truly confused about which of these two verbs to use.

On a positive note, I did find confirmation that my favorite birthday song does use the words “who” and “whom” correctly.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess I couldn’t finish this whole book, but I did slug through a good portion of it hoping to find a funny nugget. No such luck. All I found were insults to anyone who thinks that being pedantic (i.e. excessively concerned with minor details or rules) about grammar is a useful thing. As a Director of Legal Publications, pedantic editors are what I look for when hiring new staff. In legal publications consistency and accuracy are important; one can easily be pedantic without being a grammar snob. Likewise, as Casagrande illustrates, one can be a grammar snob (and meanie) without being particularly pedantic.

In short, I don’t recommend this book for the grammar lessons or the humor. I’ll keep looking for another good humorous grammar book to recommend.

This entry was posted in Writing and Style Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Grammar Can Be Funny, But Not All Grammarians Are

  1. Laura Orr says:

    Linda:

    My latest funny grammar book favorite:
    “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen,” by Mary Norris (http://www.commaqueen.net/)

    I hear “Woe is I,” by Patricia O’Conner is also funny and useful.
    http://www.grammarphobia.com/books-html/books_woe-html

    And you sure can’t beat the late Edwin Newman’s books for humor and word-wisdom: “A Civil Tongue” and “Strictly Speaking.” (These books might be considered dated, but just substitute current political figure names for the Nixon-era ones and the books are as relevant as ever.)

    Cheers!

    Laura

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *