I have a decent education. I went to a public school in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, then proceeded to college at Penn State where I majored in (depending on which semester you target) chemical engineering, business, computer science, and English (with a writing emphasis). I grew up in York County in Pennsylvania where colorful colloquialisms and clichés are a dime a dozen. See what I did there? It was almost like a joke.
However, I didn’t attend a fancy-schmancy private school nor did I further my education at Harvard or some other outwardly ostentatious bastion of higher learning where everyone talks with a stiff jaw, raised nose, and a martini in hand.
I did, however, have a mother who was a teacher and was a stickler for proper grammar and polite speech. She was not born nor raised in York County, so the liberties that York Countians take with the English language tended to make her wince, and I think it became her mission (or one of them) to make sure her children did not suffer from such locale-induced linguistic affectations. She seems to have succeeded at least somewhat, since I’ve been told on a number of occasions (by York natives) that it is hard to believe I was born and raised in York County.
I appreciate my mother’s efforts in that regard. There is, however, a side effect.
Hearing some of the torturous grammatical creations spoken by some of my fellow York natives is like hearing fingernails down a blackboard (See! They even make me resort to using clichés!). I twitch. My head tilts involuntarily, as if in a desperate attempt to dump the offending phrases back out of my head. My breathing stops momentarily as all my brain functions are diverted to support linguistic defense mechanisms.
I have some grammatical pet peeves, certainly. Many people do. For instance, using incorrect contractions when referring to a plural predicate. “There’s cars in the parking lot.” That’s equivalent to saying, “There is cars in the parking lot.” It drives me nuts.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the type of grammatical abomination that I heard today at the gas station from an elderly woman at the attendant’s glass cubicle asking about some gift cards for sale in the window. Most of them had “$25″ printed on them in big, bold numbers. Some did not. She said (and this is an exact quote because, after my bodily functions resumed their normal course, I wrote it down)…
“What are them that don’t have no price on them?
I uh… ummm….
Sorry… I still twitch just reading it.
Sadly, that kind of language abuse isn’t an uncommon occurrence around here. That was a particularly colorful example, but is by no means unique. I’m not sure why. I did have grammar classes in high school. I’m sure of it… I think. I know I had writing classes in college and even diagrammed sentences (which, and you can call me a nerd for this, I actually enjoyed). I assume that the people who speak these brain-twitch-inducing sentences also had some grammar classes during their educational careers.
Or maybe they didn’t. A cousin of mine who teaches in the neighboring county told me that her school district had decided it wasn’t going to teach grammar anymore because “the kids already know how to talk.” It wasn’t her idea (she teaches Latin, anyway), but it must have been something the school board decided.
I think that’s sad. Every day, I hear our language being spoken by people who seem oblivious to basic grammatical rules. When it comes to longer sentences, all bets are off. It’s not just little things like ending a sentence with a preposition. It’s a complete disregard for the proper conjugation of irregular verbs or the correct usage of adverbs and adjectives or even basic subject/verb agreement… and it’s all combined at the same time.
My grammar isn’t perfect and I make mistakes (I’m eyeing up the last sentence in the last paragraph with all the ambiguous “it’s” usages, for instance), but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken a sentence like the one I heard today at the gas station… even when I was in a drunken stupor (not that I ever have been, mind you!). At times, I even catch myself speaking a sentence that’s leading inevitably toward a prepositional ending… and I stop… and I rephrase. I don’t always do it, but I try. I also cringe when I don’t.