Friday, November 13, 2015

Incontrovertible proof that I am a grammar nerd

In my last post we were going to talk about when to use less and when to use fewer. But we never got around to it. Pity. At this point, that’s water under the bridge.

Sometimes I think I am a grammar nerd. (I can hear my daughter saying, “Sometimes?” But I digress.)

Take quotation marks, for instance. (I am suddenly reminded of the old one-liner by comedian Henny Youngman, “Take my wife -- please.” Oops, I did it again.)

I digress a lot. Any little thing and my mind flits off in another direction entirely. For example, on a Christian blog I read quite often, there was a small discussion going on a few days ago about the communion of saints (which phrase occurs in the last paragraph of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”) and I was suddenly off on another subject because of some quotation marks that I felt were unnecessary. I mentioned it in a comment and a short exchange ensued:

been there, done that (formerly rhymeswithplague) says:
November 6, 2015 at 9:08 am

I believe in the communion of saints. I didn’t use to, but I have come to as more and more friends and family depart this life. But something else about this post alarms me.

I am concerned about the increasing use of quotation marks on this site. Quotation marks are funny things. They can mean This Is Exactly What Was Said (Or Written) or they can mean Not Really, I’m Just Being Symbolic, Don’t Take Me Literally. A few days ago, the Trinity was described on this site as God in three “persons” and I took exception to it. I believe God exists in three persons, not in three “persons”….In today’s post it happened again. Twice. First in describing God’s realm as “heaven” and then in saying Jesus will “return”…perhaps I’m being overly pedantic and semantic, but God’s realm is real — heaven (not “heaven”) — and Jesus will return in actuality (not “return”).

Flannery O’Connor’s famous reply when Mary McCarthy said that the Eucharist was symbolic, “Well, if it’s symbolic, to hell with it.”, applies here. Heaven, God in three persons, and Jesus’ return are not symbolic. They are an actual place, an actual state, and an actual event. I am not Roman Catholic (actually, I’m Methodist) — you would have a hard time getting me to accept that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven or that she is the co-mediatrix of all grace or that the pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra — but I agree with Flannery on this one. If you want me to believe in “heaven” instead of heaven, in Jesus’ “return” instead of His return, I say “to hell with it.” And you can quote me on that.

I know this was off-topic, but I needed to get that off my chest.

Chaplain Mike says:
November 6, 2015 at 9:22 am

Bob there is a difference between the reality and our conceptions of it. When I use quotation marks, as in this post, it is to highlight the fact that we have words from scripture that name what is in fact inconceivable and indescribable. I do not mean to question the reality of these things, merely to point out that the realities we are trying to describe are above our pay grade.

This is an attempt to show humility, not deny reality.

been there, done that (formerly rhymeswithplague) says:
November 6, 2015 at 9:40 am

Understood. Thanks, Chaplain Mike, for clearing that up.

Mike H says:
November 6, 2015 at 9:35 am

I think that “quotes” are often used in recognition that some terms have a certain deeply ingrained popular usage, and that those ingrained definitions can derail a conversation if we aren’t conscious of how they’re being used. “Heaven” as fluffy cloud heaven in the sky, for example. Using quotes isn’t a sign that something isn’t real; it draws attention to the deeply ingrained ways we have of thinking about them.

That’s how I often use quotes anyways.

(end of cited material)

There are several wildly hilarious websites with examples of misused quotation marks. I will let you look them up for yourself. Far be it from me to force you to do anything.

But to repeat what I was trying to say at the beginning, anyone whose mission is to explain to others the difference between less and fewer or to straighten out the world’s insistence on using quotation marks inappropriately is definitely a grammar nerd.

I plead guilty and I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

Perhaps you can discuss appropriate punishment in the comments.


  1. Bob as the only literate American I have ever been in contact with I appreciate your correcting bad grammar when it slips into my posts. I was going to engage in the lesser/fewer debate yesterday but really didn't think I was qualified.
    I put stuff I've pinched in quotation marks and other things that I would like to draw attention to in these ones (') I don't bracket stuff or introduce a disclaimer in commas. Sometimes it slips in as lazy writing.
    What really jars with me is the new use of tenses..........Sat and sitting. If folk were 'learned' properly they would know that one is 'historic present' and the other is something else both are present tense so you help us out.
    Forget the Saints, they all had horrible things happen to them.

  2. I enjoy your nerdiness. All the best people are nerds. I am sloppy with grammar as you know though. You got that share of the smarts when they were handed out methinks. I can however, make an excellent apple pie. *nods and points to her pie on her blog*.

  3. Passion is never nerdy. Or at least I hope it isn't. You care about grammar (among other things) and want to see it used correctly.

  4. I have got your corner Buster Brague and I am fanning you with this grammatically correct towel. Here, take another glug of water and spit! "Seconds out Round Two!" There's only one thing that Chaplain Mike needs and that is a windmill punch on his hooter. Go get him boy!