Image from The Comics Curmudgeon
A few days ago somebody accused me of being a grammar snob. It wasn't the first time that's happened. I don't know if I'm insulted or proud.
I don't like being seen as a snob, although if I were a snob about anything, language might well be my choice. The subject arose because I thanked someone for writing "trouper" instead of "trooper" in praise of a person who persisted through troubles.
I remember a Family Circus cartoon that I can't find to show you. (This is why old people are valuable: we remember things that no one else can see.) In the cartoon, the very young son of the family, novice reader Billy, is reading from a storybook. His younger sister, Dolly leans against him, looking off into the air, picturing the story as he reads. Above Dolly's head there are billowing clouds of picture balloons with big Xs drawn over them and their replacements. I can't remember the words in the cartoon but it was something like:
"The dog chased the bull."
Dolly pictures a dog chasing a huge black steam-snorting bull.
"...ball," Billy corrects.
Big black X over the bull picture and a new balloon with a happy cartoon doggy chasing a little red ball.
"The dog has fan," reads Billy, and Dolly pictures the dog, ears flapping backward as he sits in front of an electric fan.
"...fun," Billy says. The dog/fan balloon is crossed out and replaced by a dog smiling around the red ball in his mouth.
I seem to know a number of people who speak in code.
Husband often fails to organize his thoughts before words cartwheel from his lips. All the words are there; they're just in no particular sensible order. Sometimes conversing with him is like solving a word jumble.
The other evening the blasting cold temperature caused the water to stop flowing in the upstairs bathroom. We performed the marital song-and-dance routine of The Failure of Water or Electricity, yelling to each other up and down two floors:
"Is it on?"
A pause. "No."
...and on and on.
Husband joined me in the small upstairs room and contorted himself into a wildly uncomfortable-looking position to look silently, probingly, at pipes that he assumed were holding frozen water. Relieved of my duty, I returned to couch and book. A few minutes later, I thought I heard sloshing water and the sound of the jets in the bathtub, and shortly after that, I heard Husband speedily descending the stairs. I steeled myself for news of disaster, picturing the upstairs floor flooded, the walls crumbling. I began searching my brain for some of the calming phrases that I have learned in Wife School.
He appeared at the stair landing.
"What's happening?" I asked. (Had the pipes exploded and he'd had to shuck his drenched clothing?)
"I left water in the tub," he said.
"Okay. Why are you naked?"
"Because I think it will keep the temperature up up there."
"But why are you naked?"
"I took a bath!" (A little snappish, that.)
"So the water's running?"
"Yes, but I'm going to turn off the valve downstairs."
The whole exchange reminded me of our long ago "fee" conversation.
Husband came by this lingual dysfunction honestly. His mother used to frustrate me with her verbal dyslexia. I think that difficulty was a big part of the reason that I so disliked speaking with her by telephone: I needed visual clues to interpret what she was saying to me.
"I went shopping today at B & G's and got some great deals!" she'd exclaim.
I would picture commercial-size jars of bread-and-butter pickles and try to think of an appropriate response.
"What will you do with them?" I might have asked, thinking she had plans to freeze gallons of pickles for summer picnics.
"What do you think I'm gonna do with it?" she'd screech.
She meant she'd been to BJ's Wholesale Club, where she'd saved zillions of dollars on toilet paper and pretzels.
Afternoon Boss has the same trouble with language. Names, in particular. He's good about getting out his own files when he needs them, but he looks for the name on the file and he can't remember names. If the applicant's name is Beaulieu, he looks for "Below." I can't help by looking up the file number because I can't find, in my spreadsheet, applicant "Below." To him I guess they look the same; he seems to find the files he needs.
Afternoon Boss delivers verbal messages to me as, for example, "Bill Tinker called."
The man's name is Rob Tranken.
When I read, "She's been a real trooper through this whole ordeal," I picture a stern-faced woman in full law-enforcement uniform. It takes me a nanosecond to figure out that that picture needs a big black X over it and one beside it with a brave dancer with bandaged foot and broad public smile.
My "grammar snob" accuser continued our conversation with, "I figure as long as I get my point across....who cares."
I feel like Dolly. I'm not a snob. I'm just trying to follow the story.
That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time.