Why You Shouldn’t Hate Me For Being a “Grammar Nazi”

I take a lot of crap for liking my grammar to be clean and precise. A metric fuck-ton of crap. Many people tell me to lighten up, or shut up. Either way. Give or take a groan or colorful expletive, those are the most common reactions I get when I mention anything in the realm of grammar. Another classic all time favorite: severe eye rolling.

These reactions give me a heavy heart, because I feel as though I am oft misunderstood. I don’t prance around expecting everyone to constantly be aware of using “who” vs “whom” or even knowing what the subjunctive case is. And as much as I love them, I don’t expect everyone to know when to use a semicolon; the rules regarding these beauteous punctuation marks can be quite complicated. And, in fact, I myself am known to say “like” many a-time in casual conversation, correct syntax be damned.

In a text or a tweet, I accept that not everyone will properly punctuate, and I definitely don’t do so when I’m in a hurry, or angry, or half asleep or half tipsy. However, and this is an enormous however, I still think grammar is important. Casually scrolling through the facebook statuses present in my news feed, I am struck repeatedly in the eyeballs by one horrible travesty after another and I start to wonder, where does it stop?

Though I cringe every time “your” incorrectly replaces “you’re” on facebook, I usually don’t raise complaint. However, after sending and receiving hundreds of emails in the professional world, and proofreading many classmates’ papers during school, sometimes I want to throw up on my keyboard (Once, someone used a construction known commonly in the world of AIM as “action stars” in a legitimate draft for a class paper. *hits forehead with palm*).

I repeat my prior question: where does it stop? I know that language is constantly changing and evolving, and sure, no one uses the word “t’wixt” anymore, but still. When I read something that is clearly meant for public display, discussion and/or scrutiny—something more formal than a tweet or status update, like a blog post or email message—and it’s written in woefully poor grammar, I immediately undervalue the person’s point and opinion. And again, I mean to stress, I’m not talking about the occasional typo or comma splice. I am talking about a solid block of rambling text that suggests English as a second or perhaps even fifth language. As a writing major, I feel like I’m more aware of grammatical snafus than the average layperson, but you cantt tell me youdont notice when a person goes on and on withouta lick f even basic spellchcker or making sure he throw in a comma or 2 or maybe even if they was seperating there sentence into more than 1 and sometimes helping correct verbs and verb agreement to help your comprehension especially with a capitol that is RANDOM in the middle of a paragraph even they dont even seem to making a point that is a point to help.

Some people seriously write like this in one hundred percent serious scenarios. On and on and on they go. I have seen this type of writing everywhere from serious emails regarding highly interpersonal emotional issues, professional emails, job applications, or blog posts that have an ultimate goal of sounding quasi-professional, smart or deep. It doesn’t fall to natural intelligence, or college level education, or socio-economic class. It falls to pure, damn laziness. If you don’t care enough to spell check, why should I care enough to read your moronic drivel? These days every word processing program and nearly every browser has a basic spell check. Even if your natural spelling is abysmal, are you seriously so lazy that, before you hit the publish button, you can’t take a quick scan and right click on those words with red squiggles under them? Really? The only excuse for use of that type of language in anything except a text or facebook status—and maybe even then—is after some sort of very, very serious head injury. I can make an exception for children younger than the age of 14, but it’s kind of unclear as to why they would be drafting professional emails or college essays.

It doesn’t make you funny or cool when you don’t care about how you present yourself, it makes you seem like an idiot. I know plenty of smart people who simply don’t communicate well, but this goes beyond that. It goes beyond style, or opinion, or especially eloquent prose. It goes to the very heart of professionalism. If I were an employer and I got a cover letter busting at the seams with grammatical errors, I would throw it in the garbage. It really doesn’t take that much effort to give your letter, email, or blog post a once over. Read it out loud to yourself. Literally read it exactly as you have written it. I can guarantee that even the laziest, humanities hating-est among you could pick up on about 80% of your mistakes. Also, these days, we have this magical little thing called google, and taking about ten seconds to type “when to use a comma” or “when should I use who vs whom” will blow your frickin lazy-ass mind. Most of what I’m talking about doesn’t come down to knowledge of mechanics though, it comes down to not being bothered.
When I read garbage like this, it actually makes me see red. For several moments the other night, I went blind with rage when I saw a facebook status that was specifically insulting every person in the poster’s age group’s intelligence. And it was written in such a manner that it should have been written in crayon, or potentially finger paint. If you’re going to go around saying everyone is stupid except you, you damn sure better make sure that status is flawless. Adding to my horror are plenty of people who write like this and then proclaim that they want to teach school children. Teach them what? How to behave like lazy assholes? Well, mission accomplished. You could get a PHD in that, be called Professor McSackofShit and be qualified to teach AP classes in it.

Really though, I return once again to my main question: where does it stop? If you’re so damn lazy that you can’t even be bothered to ask a friend to give you a quick proofread, you really need to re-examine what kind of person you are. Have some pride, dammit. The structures of our languages are what make humanity great. It separates us from animals who can only communicate with twitches of antennae or grunts that only express the most basic needs and fears. If we lose all pretense of caring or structure in even instances like cover letters or school papers, what next? Is that really the foot we want to put forward? That we can’t even be bothered to try to express ourselves with even a modicum of correctness?

Reading a piece written like that is an emotional roller coaster for me, because at first I find it completely hilarious, and then I get angry, and then I pretty much just weep for the species. I’m not saying you have to be perfect; lord knows I’m not, and it would be foolish to expect anyone to live up to standards of grammatical perfection. I’m not saying you have to transform yourself into a walking Strunk & White, though if I ever came across a humanoid version of this book I would marry him or her on the spot. I’m not even saying you have to be especially knowledgeable on the subject. I’m just saying you should give your words, thoughts, opinions, and feelings the effort they deserve. I am (clearly) of the opinion that everyone has something of value to say, or to share, but if you’re going to go through the effort of sharing it, please reward the effort we all have to put into reading it.

As a very wise, and beautiful Australian woman once said, “Good grammar is the difference between knowing your shit, and knowing you’re shit.”

Why 50 Shades of Grey is the Bane of The Universe

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Let’s face it: there are a lot of bad books out in the world. For every masterfully crafted novel there’s one filled with lusty wereotters or heaving bosoms or whatever the fuck else is in bad books these days. The ratio of shitty books to those with standards has, of course, become skewed due to the advent of self-publishing, but most of these books are just shoddily crafted and poorly edited. They are not dangerous. They’re just bad. 50 Shades of Grey, though — it’s both.

50 Shades of Grey is — and I fully believe this — the worst piece of literature to come out in the past decade. Back in the day when Twilight was becoming all the rage, I was convinced that I would never find anything I hated more. I was wrong. Twilight is a comparative masterpiece. Now, I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve read the first book of Twilight and none of the others. And I’ve certainly never actually read 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve read excerpts and that’s more than enough for me. I know it’s a bit of a faux pas to lambast something you’ve never actually read yourself, but I think I should mention that I don’t hate 50 Shades of Grey because it’s a shitty book. That’s only part of the reason.

So let’s start off with the fact that it’s terribly written. As a writer, I find it incredibly upsetting that Time magazine included E.L James as one of the most influential people in the world, because her writing style is just that awful. The main character, in the midst of sexy times, will say “Holy cow!” or spin long-winded metaphors about how her inner goddess enjoys sunning herself on the back porch sipping lemonade while — wait what’s happening in the book again? The  passage “I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass, Anastasia…. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into. Your ass will need training.” is actually present. Some other gems include:

“‘His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

and

“I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of the communist manifesto.

These sorts of lines are cringe-worthy. The relationship is cringe-worthy. Everything about this book is cringe-worthy.

“But Kendra,” you may say, “What makes this terrible erotica/romance novel so much worse than every other terrible erotica/romance novel?”

I’m getting to that.

The reason I hate 50 Shades of Grey more than probably every other bad novel out there is because originally, it was a fanfiction. And let it be known that I think fanfiction is a glorious thing. I think it allows young writers to find their voices, and I think it helps people hone their craft while not worrying so much about worldbuilding. There’s still imagination, there’s still characterisation — but it’s an easier way to improve than just starting everything from scratch. But fanfiction is still only fanfiction. It stops being okay to write fanfiction when you start making money off it and when, god forbid, you start passing it off as your own.  And that’s what E.L James did.

Let me tell you a little story: way back before 50 Shades of Grey was a thing, there was a Twilight fanfic writer (known hilariously as “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”) who wrote a highly praised alternate-universe erotic trilogy called Master of the Universe.  This series featured the familiar characters of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in a universe where supernatural creatures did not exist. Instead, Edward was a high-powered, sexually deviant millionaire who tempted Bella, a naive college student, into joining him in his world.

Fast forward a few years. Master of the Universe has done brilliantly among the sexually repressed housewives and horny teenagers who read Twilight but were disappointed with the lack of sexytimes, so good old Snowqueen Icedragon, high on anonymous praise from reviewers on The Interweb, decides to take the next step. She has put so much time and effort into crafting this series that, gosh darn it, why shouldn’t she get some kind of reward for all her hard work? So what if she didn’t create the characters or the relationship — she came up with the “plot,” right? So she changed the names from Bella Swan to Anastasia Steele and Edward Cullen to Christian Grey and published her reworked version of Master of the Universe (split into a three-part series) with a virtual publisher based in Australia, choosing the much more sophisticated pen name E.L. James. And eventually this heinous plague was unleashed on the rest of humanity.

Up until this point, the moral responsibility of stealing someone else’s characters and passing them off as  original creations lay solely on E.L. James’s shoulders. But that all changed when Vintage Books (a Big Six imprint) decided that this trilogy would make them heaps and heaps and heaps of money and offered her an incredibly enormous book deal. And here’s where I start to hate pretty much everything about the book series, its author, its situation, and its publisher: it does not matter one bit whether it’s a brilliant masterpiece or a deformed dog turd — what matters is that no one saw the slightest thing wrong with publishing fanfiction as a real work of art.

I know the characters names have been changed. I’m also aware that the selling point has nothing to do with vampires. But my point still remains: the characters, which the entire trilogy depends on, are complete and utter ripoffs of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. And while I know I wrote earlier that I find Twilight a literary abomination, I still feel that every author, regardless of how talentless he or she may be, deserves at least a little bit of credit for coming up with something in its entirety and seeing it through to the bitter end. Twilight may be a series filled with terrible role models for young girls, unrealistic (and dangerous) standards for relationships, and mediocre turns of phrase, but at least Stephenie Meyer didn’t rip anybody off to write it. No matter how much I dislike her books, I have to give the lady props. She dreamed up characters, she loved them, she wrote them, and she happened to make millions off them. And what I find terribly unjust is that now, someone else is taking these characters she loved and (presumably) put a lot of work into. She’s changed their names and stuck them in a slightly different plot — which, if you remove the supernatural creatures from one and the BDSM from the other, really isn’t all that different — and Stephenie Meyer gets no credit. Instead, James is making bank. Lots of bank.

A publishing house should know better than this — especially one that’s so influential, especially after all the book scandals of the past few years (James Frey, I’m looking at you, you big worst). Vintage shouldn’t sit there and say “oh, it’s okay” — they should be outraged! No work is, of course, wholly original, as it’s all been said and done before — but this is conceptual plagiarism. Without Twilight, this novel would not exist — and Twilight, unlike Jane Eyre, is not exactly in the public domain just yet. Without Edward Cullen, Christian Grey would not be a character — and Christian Grey is Edward, just as Anastasia is Bella. A rose by any other name, in this instance, smells exactly the fucking same.

So why does this bother me so much? Two reasons. The first is the implication this has in the publishing and writing world. I know the publishing industry is struggling in some respects. But is it really that far gone that we have to resort to skirting around copyright issues just to make a buck? Does it mean I can publish my novel and four or five years down the road find someone else making money off characters that resemble mine in every way but name? I know imitation is a form of flattery, but that is taking things too damn far.

James wrote fanfiction about a series she enjoyed by an author she liked. She liked it so much she used Meyer’s characters and wrote her own little stories about them. And then she turned around and slapped Meyer in the face wearing a shit-eating grin that said, “Hey! You’re great but I’m going to make ALL the benjamins and I’m not going to give you any credit at all for making my work what it was.” Now what kind of person does that make her?

The worst part about all of this is that, unlike the James Frey situation (in which he lied and the publishing house got slammed for not checking into things sooner), Vintage was well aware right from the beginning that 50 Shades of Grey originated as a Twilight fic. In an article I read long ago, a spokesperson from Vintage stated that the book barely resembled its fanfiction roots — and just a few paragraphs later claimed that 50 Shades of Grey had been left virtually untouched. And I know that they’re trying to cash in on the Twilight craze; they even vaguely referenced Twilight in the similar cover art styles! But there are other ways to make money that don’t infringe on other writers’ rights.

The other scary implication for me is what this will do to the fanfiction community. Yeah, fanfiction isn’t the most glamourous thing, but as I said above, it really can help young writers. It gives them a sense of community, a place where they can get feedback on whatever they’ve done, and this can really help boost their confidence. Certain authors, such as Anne Rice, have already expressed a dislike for fanfiction, and will not permit it written about their book. Many more authors are okay with fanfiction — so long as the writers adhere to the stipulations that A) they write a disclaimer that explains that the characters and world are someone else’s brainchild and B) they make no profit. 50 Shades of Grey crosses both lines. It claims to be a standalone work, derived from nothing (though paradoxically James freely talks about the books’ beginnings as a fanfic) and is making millions upon millions of dollars. Will this set a bad precedent and make other authors more leery of allowing an otherwise harmless hobby? And will it teach aspiring writers that it’s okay to cheat and to steal so long as your work makes it big?

I won’t tell you not to read the books. If you feel the need to lower your IQ and turn your retinas into goo, please, by all means, read them. But don’t buy them. Pirate them, get them from your local library, read snippets online — because after all, it’s a book and it is meant to be read. But by giving this harpy your hard-earned cash, you’re telling her — and the rest of the world — that creativity and respect mean nothing.

Why I Won’t Date Someone Who Hates Board Games.

The Recht family does not have many traditions. We don’t go on holiday to any specific place. We don’t do movie nights or Friday night pizza dinners or whatever the fuck most “All-American families” are supposed to do. But if the Recht family has one thing, it is a great passion for games of all sorts, particularly Setback.

Setback is the most addictive game you’ll ever play. I challenge anyone to dislike it after learning — which so far, no one has. This game is the glue that binds my family together. It’s kind of like a rite of passage: you fully become an adult member of the Recht family when you are indoctrinated into the realm of Setback. Other families have heirlooms that they hand down to their children — an old engagement ring, a scarf, what-have-you — but we have this game and it’s our game and it’s the best game in the entire bloody world. When I was a kid, my parents and aunts and uncles would shoo us out of the kitchen, make us go to bed, and then play this game until two in the morning. Now I am one of them, a member of the cult of Setback, and I’m spreading my teachings to the general public.

But this post isn’t about Setback. It’s in defense of every game that has ever existed. It’s about Monopoly and Scattergories and Balderdash and May I and Taboo because oh yes, board — and card! — games are exceptionally fun and that’s why they are called games. I know that not every board game is every person’s cup of tea. But dear god how can a single person dislike every board game that has ever existed? I do not trust people who don’t play board games. As soon as I hear a phrase like “Board games are lame/stupid/boring/[insert negative or derogatory comment here]” my interest in that person screeches to a grinding halt and fizzles out like a poorly made sparkler. I become very concerned about their character, because seriously, how can you hate board games? Do you hate fun? Granted, I could probably be friends with someone who hated board games — okay, maybe just friendly acquaintances — but when it comes to someone who is, at some point, supposed to join up with the rest of the Recht clan, a disdain for board games is a big no-no. Because, really, how can you hate all board games? Is it even possible? If you don’t like word games, there are mystery games. If you don’t like those, you can play strategy games or cards or trivia or party games or anything, because let’s be real: there is a board game for every occasion, for every kind of brain.

There are two kinds of people who hate playing games. The first kind of person is bland, beige, and wholly sans personality. If you ask Bland about anything, they give monosyllabic, monotonous answers. They have no real interests, no concept of the word “fun,” and because of this tend to stick together like an enormous flock of dull-eyed pigeons or latch onto more vibrant, dynamic people, leeching their heart and soul from them bit by teeny tiny bit. The Blands don’t like board games because board games, while not nearly as exciting as white-water rafting or dancing, are inherently fun and interesting and require a person to also be fun and interesting. Have you ever tried to play a board game with a Bland? They suck out all the enthusiasm you may have once had and leave you either irritated beyond belief (best case scenario) or soulless and beige just like them (worst case scenario). These are the people who forget that Apples to Apples is not supposed to be literal and play the word “Chocolate” for “Sweet” and get all offended when you happen to play “Helen Keller” for “Senseless.” Everyone else gets it. Everyone else falls off their seats laughing and Bland sits there, rigid as stone, and says “That’s not even accurate” and then all the joy is gone and Bland becomes The Board Game Grinch who no one ever wants to play with or even be around.

Let it be known that Bland is a person no one ever wants to date, even outside of the board game scenario. They’re awful no matter what, and I’d say (thank god) that they are far less prevalent than the other type of person: the Cool Dude. The Cool Dude is just way too bloody hip for board games. Cool Dude is busy smoking weed or hiking or writing slam poetry or whatever else he finds to be the most respectable (because Cool Dudes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages, ranging from bro to hipster to suave businessman). He’s not interested in your silly playtime because board games are for children. And Cool Dude is not a child. Cool Dude is the coolest of the cool, and board games don’t fit under the list of acceptable activities he’s allowed to engage in. The only way he’ll ever join in is if it’s maaaybe poker, and even then only if all his other Cool Dude friends are into it. He thinks that there is nothing more geeky, more silly, and more stupid than playing Clue. This is the kind of person who, even if he thinks Cards Against Humanity may be the most intriguing specimen of game he’s ever encountered, will stick his nose up in the air and say, “No thanks. I’d rather be doing something more my age.” The Cool Dude is worse than the Bland, because Cool Dude is a fucking fake. Crying inside is this little tiny child that wants to get out and play Charades but can’t because some big old mental bully is pinning him down — all because Cool Dude is trying so hard to look impressive.

If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s people who aren’t honest, and Cool Dude is dishonest, which probably makes him the worse of the two. Bland is just Bland, but who likes Bland anyway? They can stick together and create awful beige babies and maybe claim a patch of land that no one cares about, like Arkansas or Oklahoma, and no one will ever have to deal with them again. But Cool Dudes are everywhere. Although there’s nothing wrong with preferring other activities, playing cards or board games every once in a while allows you to take a breather and have some good old-fashioned fun without overexerting yourself mentally or physically. It’s a good bonding experience with friends and family, and a great way to save what could be a dull, rainy day — or worse. Because of Hurricane Sandy, my family was without power for over a week, and when I got brief, emailed updates from them, my Dad wrote, “We still don’t have power, but we’ve been playing card games all weekend. We’re making the best of it.” And while I understand that maybe Cool Dude’s time is better spent taking foreign language classes or writing the next great novel, every once in a while it is nice to take a breather.

So please, people, stop and think long and hard about who you want to be: a Bland, a Cool Dude, or Just A Regular Human Being. Before you proclaim loudly to the world, “Board games? I hate board games!” you should first consider your happiness, your mental health, and most of all my mental health, and then maybe find something less retarded to say instead.