Social Media Grammar Fails

A few weeks ago, I got sucked into a heated punctuation discussion on Facebook after an attorney friend of mine posted the following question:

Which is correct?
1. Defendants want to but cannot have it both ways.
2. Defendants want to, but cannot have it both ways.
3. Defendants want to, but cannot, have it both ways.

This friend tagged my name in his post because he wanted my input on what the correct version is (#1 or #3, if you’re curious), but my response got lost among the sixty-plus others that he received within the next five minutes. People were throwing out terms like “comma splice” (inapplicable) and vague guidelines like “Always put a comma before and, yet, or, nor, for and yet” (which lacks one of the very commas for which this particular contributor was so stridently advocating). Whatever rules of grammar had been implanted in these punctuation enthusiasts’ mental coffers since grade school came tumbling out in a competitive deluge of wordsmithery, and I thought my head was going to explode, so I had to log out.

People ask me all the time if I notice grammatical errors constantly. Well, yes, in the same way that a dentist probably can’t help but check out everyone’s teeth or a hair colorist can spot an especially bad dye job from across a room. But just like that dentist doesn’t want to think about who has veneers and who needs a new crown when he’s at a dinner party, and just like that colorist wants to spend her days off not thinking about anyone’s dark roots, I choose not to live in a bad-grammar prison all the time. I just want to get in bed at night and read The Goldfinch in peace like everyone else did, and I couldn’t do that if I let myself fixate on how sloppily copyedited it is. (It really is, by the way.)

But this Facebook episode stayed on my mind long after that thread disappeared to wherever old posts go to die, because it reminded me of something I’ve been ruminating on for a while, which is that social media outlets are a whole new arena for showcasing people’s grammar and language abilities. And the more time I spend on these sites, the more I notice the same handful of errors popping up again and again in people’s Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram captions, and even hashtags. As much as I usually like to turn off that part of my brain, I’ve developed a masochistic fascination with this particular breed of grammar gaffe—and now I’d like to share five prime examples with you, my lucky followers:

  1. “Your” vs. “you’re.” Maybe I’m just naive, but I thought this error was relegated to the ’80s and ’90s, along with, like, Reebok high-tops and Roxette. But no—there it was yesterday in a clothing company’s Instagram post: “If your in the LA area, come on by!” There it was today on Facebook: “Hope your having a great birthday!” I feel the same way about this mistake as I do about stretch limos in modern times—it makes me think, Is this really still happening?
  2. “Awe” vs. “aw.” Most people on photo-heavy social media sites are guilty of trying to out-cute each other once in a while with pictures of their kids, their puppies, themselves. Naturally, e-gushing follows. This is all fine—until someone drops an “awe” bomb and makes me want to send the dictionary police after her. “Awe” is a noun. It means “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder.” It does not mean, “Your baby is sooooo adorable!” That’s the exclusive purview of “aw,” which is an interjection. So please, no “e.” That “e” is for “extra letter that doesn’t belong here.”
  3. “Happy New Year from the Clancy’s/the Jones’s.” I am fortunate in more ways than one to have grown up next door to a family whose last name ends in “s,” but I like to think that even if I hadn’t, I would still have learned somewhere along the way that the plural form of “Brooks” is “Brookses” (not “the Brooks,” not “the Brook’s”) and that the plural possessive form takes an apostrophe after the final “s” (“my house was next door to the Brookses’ house”). This rule also applies to any last name that ends in “z” or “x.” If you get confused, just think of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses,” which you will not be doing as long as you keeping sticking unnecessary apostrophes in your name on your holiday cards.
  4. “Defiantly” vs. “definitely.” This one keeps coming up, and I deeply want to believe that it’s just an auto-correct issue, but I don’t think it is. For all its quirks, a smartphone is smart enough not to make this mistake—and when I see comments on Instagram like “I’ll defiantly be there tonight!” and “Defiantly call me later” . . . well, the context says it all, doesn’t it?
  5. “I miss my old stomp and ground.” Okay, fine, this isn’t a common error, but when I saw that someone had posted this in response to an Instagram photo of her hometown—aka her “stomping grounds”—I had to say a little prayer for her.

Grammar is a dangerous game, after all. Right now, I’m already worried about whether this whole post seems too snotty—and right now, you’re probably feeling tempted to ask (if I may adapt a line from the cinematic masterpiece Say Anything), “If you know so much about grammar, how come you’re there at, like, your apartment on a Saturday night, completely alone, with no friends anywhere?”

To that, I say, “By choice, man.” And now I’m off to spoon with The Chicago Manual of Style.

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“I Hate My Book”

“I’m sick of working on my novel,” I complained to my writing coach recently. “I feel like it’s a thousand-pound weight on my shoulders.”

With the Zen-like patience befitting her status as a literary guru, she responded, “I don’t think you need to assign it such a beastly quality.”

“But it is a beast,” I whined. “It’s the beast that’s ruining both of our lives.”

“It’s certainly not ruining my life,” she said. “But if you feel like it’s ruining yours, I think you should write a blog post about it.”

“Fine,” I said. “And I’m going to call the post ‘I Hate My Book.'”

“Go for it,” she said.

So here I am, trying to turn petulance into petunias.

To be fair, I don’t really hate my book. It’s more like a frenemy, one of those maddening companions who have the power to both inspire you and torment you, make you feel proud and cut you down to size, keep you up till all hours in an intoxicatingly deep conversation or force you to hide under your bed because you can’t bear to hang out.

This kind of ambivalent relationship is always confusing but usually seems to shake out one way or the other: either you drop the frenemy because she’s causing you more suffering than happiness or you figure out how to focus on her positive attributes and steer clear of the negative ones. In either case, such a resolution rarely happens on its own but rather requires a conscious choice. And despite my grousing, I’ve already made that choice about my book—the choice to finish it, no matter how achingly slow the process is, no matter how clumsy I sometimes feel when I’m trying to put together a chapter, and no matter how often I wonder whether anyone will even want to read my story once it’s written.

When I was learning to surf, one of the best pieces of advice I got was “The only way to become a better paddler is to paddle.” Well, the only way to become a better writer is to write, and as much as I’m grateful to my coach for being patient with me when I want to vent, I know that complaining and self-doubt will only hinder my progress in the long run. And having completed forty-two of fifty-four chapters, I can safely say there’s no turning back now.

Every time I sit down to write—even if I manage to eke out only a single paragraph—I’m honoring my choice to reach the finish line of this marathon. And when I do, will I raise my fists in anger and scream out, “I hate my book”? Obviously not. I’ll immediately start feeling empty as I wonder what the heck I’m going to do with all my newfound free time.

And that’s what frenemies are for.

The 8-8-8 Method

Hi, I’m Annie, and I’m a workaholic. Beyond my regular workweek, I’ve spent an inestimable number of evenings and weekends at my computer over the past few years, forgoing social activities, fresh air, and rest in the name of . . . what? Extra income? Perfectionism? My love for what I do? Sure, all of those are valid reasons to work hard, but I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole mostly because, as much as I’m accustomed by now to the roller coaster ride that is self-employment, I still can’t ever totally shake my nervousness that if I say no to just one assignment, my employers will suddenly all disappear and leave me with no prospects for future projects. It may be an irrational fear, but when I put on my worrywart hat, it feels all too real.

Then I read this Forbes article, “Why Working More Than 8 Hours a Day Can Kill You,” about some of the grave health risks associated with chronic overwork, and I decided enough is enough. So now I’m trying out something I’m calling the 8-8-8 approach to work-life balance. It’s a simple concept—8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of everything else (meals, exercise, relaxation, errands) per day—but it’s surprisingly complex to execute. I’ve mapped out these chunks of time on my Google calendar for every day in the month of October—an attempt at giving myself a 31-day challenge of sorts—and I’ve committed to taking on only as much work during those days as I can manage without eating into the time I’ve allotted for other activities, but all it takes to get off track is one unexpected task: a lengthy email I hadn’t anticipated writing, or a half-hour proofread. Each time I derail myself, I treat it as a lesson about how to adjust my schedule for the following week.

I’ve been at this for only 13 days, but here’s what I can tell you so far: Last week, I felt better rested than I had in months, after sleeping between eight and nine hours every night; I made it to the gym Monday through Friday; I saw college friends for dinner two different nights and cooked new recipes for myself the other three evenings; and I started a new chapter of my novel—and I still managed to fit in eight work hours all five days. This weekend, I’m making time to blog and focus on my own book, but I also spent all of Saturday hiking and swimming in the San Gabriel Mountains, soaking up some much-needed vitamin D. And guess what? I didn’t think about my computer once.

Welcome

When I was in college, I used to go around telling people I wanted to spend some time living on the Louisiana bayou, writing a novel. I had romantic visions of typing away while sipping lemonade on a porch and fanning myself, with only a big hound dog to keep me company. As I mummified myself in wool and down to trundle off to science class on frigid New England winter days, the thought of all that creative freedom and humid air on my bare skin seemed heavenly to me.

I still kind of like the idea, but I haven’t made it to the swampland yet. When I graduated, I headed cross-country to California instead and have been here ever since. The good news is, I actually am writing a novel. It’s every bit as scary and challenging as I thought it would be, but I’m not giving up, even though sometimes I find my head spinning with so many other responsibilities that the prospect of writing a single page is daunting.

I don’t have the luxury of working on my manuscript all day, but I do have a secret weapon: literary editing is my profession. I’ve been collaborating with other authors on their books for a decade, and along the way I’ve learned a lot about what makes a manuscript work and what doesn’t. Memoirs, thrillers, how-to guides, historical fiction, food books, travel anthologies—you name it, I’ve read it. One of the subjects I’ll be blogging about here is what it’s like to be an editor-turned-author: the blessing of understanding the building blocks of a compelling story, the curse of compulsive self-editing; the agony of reworking a scene over and over, the ecstasy of crafting a dialogue that feels really authentic.

I’ll also be exploring another of my favorite topics: grammar. If you want to nerd out about dangling participles, correct usage of lay and lie, and even basic punctuation, you’re in the right place. So welcome to my blog. I know it’s only one of millions, but I hope you’ll stick around to see how this all turns out. 

Thanks for reading,

Annie