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The pedant’s triumph

This month I’ve discovered an advantage to being this advanced in years. Such positives are rare; too often age confers unhappy corollaries. (Tried doing a full back bend recently?) I’ve just got my Qualified Teacher Status. Funny time of year to qualify, I know; a result of having dropped out of my training at Whitsun following my mother’s health crisis. I found a school to take me for the first half term of this academic year to complete my training, and it worked – I’ve got my QTS. But beyond that I’ve also got a big boost to my confidence. The school has invited me to return and deliver lectures to my colleagues –the teachers in the English department– on grammar.

Really. Turns out that I have gained the status of sage in the use of the dash and the transitive and intransitive verb. As the Americans say – hoo noo? Me, a grammar expert!

What did I do to deserve this? I think it was being born, and therefore schooled, all that time ago. We were taught the subject–predicate alliance as a matter of course, and we knew there was nothing more perfect about the future perfect than the pluperfect. It was an innocent age; we didn’t query these things.

Now, when I reply to a pupil who has said ‘very unique’, ‘that’s a superlative already, you can’t add a modifier to that,’ I become self-conscious. Oh dear, I have just paraded my grammatical knowledge, again! I must control myself. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that I must now devise some grammar lectures…

It’s daunting to be asked to lecture on something that I have never claimed expertise in. (Yes, I believe there is no rule against ending sentences with repositions. It’s merely a convention that Winston Churchill rightly dismissed as nonsense up with which he would not put!) Now I’m going to go away and swallow as many grammar books as I can manage. Fowler’s English Usage tops the list. Which others would you recommend?

I’ve got Eats Shoots & Leaves but I doubt we will spend much time on punctuation. We can dispense with the comma splice and the difference between the m-dash and brackets in a jiffy. The apostrophe isn’t interesting – it’s got clear rules. I’m looking forward to tangling in the thickets of style and usage versus (v or vs?) the rules. Who sets them? I must find out…

Let me share some quick googling with you. Here’s a discussion on style by Frank Kermode, on Martin Amis:

For writers are to be polite in every sense, courteous in manner and properly skilled in literature. To ‘have to read the sentence twice, even though you didn’t want to read it once’ is to suffer undeservedly. Worse still is the wince produced by ‘genteelisms’: ‘a forty-minute hike brought the dog and I to the top of the hill.’ A belated disciple of Fowler, Amis abhors Elegant Variation: ‘If the President seemed to support the Radicals in New York, in Washington he appeared to back the Conservatives.’ This is not only Elegant Variation but Pointless Chiasmus, a crime I have only this minute identified.

OK, I get that a hike brought its object – me, not I (the pronoun reserved for the subject of the sentence/clause) to my destination. To say ‘I’ there is not so much a ‘genteelism’ as plain wrong. But when is chiasmus pointless? Oh dear, I might be learning more than I  want to. Will I have to repudiate everything I’ve ever written?

Grammar books recommendations to [email protected]

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AM Poppy
About AM Poppy (8 Articles)

Formerly avid environmental and social justice campaigner in Barnet, Poppy is now ready to settle down. She is working towards becoming an English teacher. Twitter: @PoppyinFinchley; [email protected]