Being the Language Police

There is a cute cartoon I’ve seen that shows an old lady using spray paint to correct a billboard advertisement:

Got milk?

\She changes it. Have you got any milk?

An English teacher gone rogue. She’d had it with incorrect phrases like that.

But I feel her pain. I’m one of those people who winces when good and well are interchanged. Or when may and can get confused.

Case in point. One of my children will say, “Can I eat a cookie?”

My eyes grow wide and I speak in exaggerated tones. “Can you eat a cookie? Of course you can eat a cookie! You have muscles in your jaw and teeth in your mouth and if you chew it, you most certainly can eat a cookie.”

As you can imagine, I get an eye roll and an exasperated sigh.

May I have a cookie?” they say correctly.

“Oh, you are asking for permission? Yes. You may have a cookie. Thank you for asking.”

My husband has put up with this for twenty years, the poor man, and it might be cause for his canonization someday. He grew up in a home where English was a second language for each of his parents. His mom is from Germany and his dad is from Italy. Good and well are thrown about without distinction. I give them all a big pass, though. It’s infinitely easier to resort to good. Such a useful, all-around word.

He did good on his test.

Argh. Nails on the chalkboard to me.

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Early in our marriage, I’d correct him until I realized that there were bigger things to work on. Like who was going to do the dishes after dinner.

But two decades in, he knows me well. He can read my silence fluently. Apparently, as a mother knows the meanings of her infant’s different cries, he knows exactly what I’m thinking even as I keep my mouth shut.

He did well on his test, he’d correct, knowing that it was grating on me.

My proudest moments are when my family uses correct grammar. Really. My heart swells.

But I have an admission. I have my own trouble spots.

Lay and lie. I don’t know why, but for the life of me, these twist my brain into knots.

Did she lay on the bed or did she lie on the bed?

The axiom is People lie, things lay.

So I understand the rule, but I still have to think about it. Forty-one years into speaking the English language, I am repeatedly stopping myself and applying it so that I can say my sentences correctly.

My other nemesis is toward/towards. All my life, I have used the version with an “s” at the end. But after my edits on my last book, my overworked editor, who earned every cent she made on it, had a zillion corrections to point out about this very word. I was so embarrassed! I pride myself on having grammar down pat! I admire the book Eats Shoots and Leaves! I am a proponent of the Oxford comma! How could I have missed the boat so thoroughly on this one?

There is another rule in life. It says Pride goes before a fall.

All my years of correcting the grammar of my family caught up with me. I had pie on my face in front of my editor. My 7th grade English teacher was rolling over in her grave.

So the moral of the story?

If you’re going to sit on your high horse, you’ll have to make your bed and lay in it.

Lie in it.

Lay.

Lie.

Yea, lie.

Oh, and don’t overuse clichés. But that’s for another blog post on another day.

______________________

unnamed Camille Di Maio is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 19 years, enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She loves finding goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel. Her second, “Before the Rain Falls” will be released on May 16, 2017.

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