Missed Periods & Other Grammar Scares

… How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Grammar Errors
by Jenny Baranick

Reviewed for New York Journal of Books by Stevie Godson

With the current upsurge in popularity of salacious fiction, thanks largely to the stratospheric sales of “mommy porn” series 50 Shades of Grey — not to mention its myriad copycat offspring all skulking around like perverts at a hookers’ convention — the timing probably couldn’t be better for a “sexy” grammar book.

It’s a subject that has been, up to now, only sexy — if that could ever be the right word — for a relatively few word nerds (like this reviewer!) So few, in fact, that it seems even author Jenny Baranick isn’t seduced by it, despite her attempts to prove otherwise.

“My students think I love grammar,” she explains. “That just says one thing to me: I chose the wrong profession — I should have been an actress. I don’t love grammar. Loving grammar is like loving oatmeal. It’s no three-cheese omelette, but it’s good for us.”

And perhaps that’s why her efforts just don’t work. As far as this book goes, Ms Baranick’s a self-confessed imposter — and it shows.

A teacher of English composition, critical thinking, and a remedial English class called Writing Skills at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, the author says she is consistently shocked at the poor grammar of her students, which is apparently why, in January 2010, she started her popular Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares blog.

As she points out: “…our writing is our first impression. People read our resumés, cover letters, proposals, and e-mails, and that’s the basis on which we are judged first. If our writing is full of grammar and punctuation errors, even though the content may be great, it’s like wearing a beautifully made Prada dress that has deodorant stains.”

The book covers the grammar basics and not much more, and that’s okay — it makes no claim to do more — but where it falls apart completely is in the author’s dogged adherence to her shaky premise.

The result is embarrassing.

First up are confusing words, and Baranick lists what she calls “The Dirty Dozen”. First of those are the words “lose” and “loose”.

“What do Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, David Letterman, Jesse James, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Jon Gosselin, Ryan Phillippe, Mel Gibson and Hugh Grant have in common,” she asks.

“They’re all men and they’re all cheaters.”

But females must cheer up, she entreats, “the gender cheating gap is closing. Women are reportedly cheating almost as much as men. Isn’t that great news? I love equality”.

Not only that, she explains at length, it all helps to understand why people mix up the two words, more particularly why they overuse “loose”.

“Now it makes sense. Because everyone is so sexually loose, they are subconsciously  expressing it when they write.”

Really?

I don’t think so.

Apostrophes, em dashes, ellipses, and all the other basic grammatical stumbling blocks get the same tacky treatment as Baranick contrives one cringeworthy analogy after another.

“If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be,” she asks at one point, and then chastises herself for choosing green eyes, longer eyelashes and a flawless complexion ….

“Wait a minute! I should be ashamed of myself. All of these changes are so superficial. If I could change something on the inside, I would remove the part of my brain that can’t help but associate Richard Gere with gerbils.

“For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, several years ago there was a rumour…You know what? Never mind. I am not going to tarnish your Richard Gere experience….He deserves more than being known as the gerbil guy.”

And then (lest you still didn’t get it): “When I think about Richard Gere, I can’t help but simultaneously think about the colon.”

Come on! Does Baranick seriously expect us to believe that this is a constant, embedded thought that she’d have excised if she could, rather than just a pathetically weak excuse to link the punctuation mark to its anatomical namesake and give readers something to snigger about?

The book’s marketing material describes it as edgy and entertaining . . . in the spirit of the bestselling Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and adds that grammar has finally let its hair down, giving us laugh-out-loud, “dare we say, a little risqué” advice:

“By spreading her remarkably user-friendly and hilarious approach to grammar, she hopes everyone will experience the satisfaction of a properly placed comma, a precisely used semicolon, and a correctly deployed en dash.”

A worthy aim, but Baranick would have been better off using a softer approach: a feather to tickle our funny bones instead of a sledgehammer to batter her message home.

Reviewer Stevie Godson is a columnist for South African newspaper the Daily Dispatch, a copy editor and a former books page editor.

 

 

 

 

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Saturday, September 8th, 2012 at 5:18 pm and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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