Tuesday, August 31, 2004

PGSS - the hidden shame

Saw yet another of my colleagues today looking as though his dog had died. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"I just gave a grammar test to my writing class," he answered.

In class, a student gave me as an example of a bad headline:
Training demands hamstring fire departments
There's some debate there, perhaps, but the crux was that the student did not fully understand "hamstring" as a verb.

Got back to my office and a professor at another university has posted on a journalism educators' list a compilation of actual sentences from essays in his freshman "Mass Comm and Society" course. I won't share them and violate the list's privacy, but his header says it all, "I couldn't make these up if I tried."

Friends, I've decided that many among us, as editors and educators, suffer from PGSS - Post Grammatic Stress Syndrome.

This is a serious affliction as we see a wider generational gap in language and continually decreasing shared cultural context (partly because of the proliferation and fragmentation of the same media we are training our students to become part of), and as some influential organizations of English teachers appear to feel that teaching paragraph-level grammar is hegemonic (while business has yet to get that message). This should be covered by major medical. Where is the AAUP?!

Here are some warning signs:
-- The editor or professor keeps muttering "media are, media are."
-- The professor walks around with a paper in one outstretched hand like Diogenes, searching for a verb.
-- The professor is barricaded in his or her office by piling dictionaries, usage books and the like at the door shouting "Stop, or I'll shoot!" with a gun pointed at an AP Stylebook.
-- The editor bolts up in bed in the middle of the night, flings open the window, and shouts: "It's 3 a.m. in the morning, and I don't care if that's redundant!"
-- The copy editor, asked a style question, reaches not for the AP Stylebook, but for an old copy of Mad magazine.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. PGSS is indeed the hidden shame. Here's what you can do for your friends and colleagues exhibiting such symptoms:
-- With a reassuring hug, note that you recall at least one time recently where someone remembered subject-verb agreement or used "it" instead of "they" correctly.
-- If you're at the grocery, acknowledge the pain in his or her debating whether to join the "10 items or less" line.
-- Make a hot cup of tea, tuck the person in a comforter, turn on CBS "Sunday Morning" and then turn the picture off. Let him or her listen and partake of the knowledge that it is possible to be conversational and grammatical at the same time. (I'd recommend NPR as well, but just yesterday its reporters kept telling us "the RNC hopes their convention ...")
-- If necessary, throw your body in front of the TV should Fox News or CNN be on. Serious side effects could result.
-- Go through the morning paper first and clip out all the offending items. If asked, say you were clipping coupons. If so many must be clipped out that it's too obvious, say the paper did not come -- and then disable the Internet access.

It's only through your love and care -- and proper use of the language -- that he or she will get through this.


At 8/31/04, 4:43 PM, Blogger Murley said...

Further symptom: He threatens to emasculate the next student writer who comes up with a sentence that violates the possessive form of "its," spelling it thusly: "it's."


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