Ho Made: The Lowdown on Grammar

December 2, 2014

Ho Made Apple Butter

We've all been there. Victims of a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation mark.  I used to be queen of the comma. Free association comma placement, I call it. I think I must have been snoozing when grammar was taught in my high school English class. To this day I still think pet rodent when I see the word gerund.

Nowadays I'm a stickler. I see a misplaced apostrophe on a store sign, that's one less customer for said establishment. How can I trust their wares if they can't get a simple thing like that straight? Same goes for job applications. Years ago, when I ran an ad for a personal assistant, I received over 100 resumes. More than half went straight into the trash unread. Why? Because of a misspelled word or improper usage of grammar in the cover letter.

A recent study to determine what impact writing skills have on career opportunities indicates there is a strong correlation between writing skills, hireability and pay.

I attribute my success as a writer in part to having been a scrupulous spell-checker. This was in the days before computers with automated spellcheck, so I did it the old-fashioned way: using the dictionary. I was also served well by my reign as spelling bee champ of my eight grade class. I started my career as a freelance writer, which meant sending out a gazillion query letters and short stories on spec. I got plenty of "no's." and not a lot of "yeses," but I guarantee not one of the "no's" was due to a misspelled word.

Now, as a writer with many published titles lining my shelves, I wish I could say I had no need of a copy editor. Though loath to admit it, I still make mistakes. Not glaring ones, however. (Note the proper usage of "loath" which is often confused with "loathe.")

My goal isn't to be perfect.  I have found that being attentive to grammar is enough. It's made me a better writer. In thinking about comma placement, I think about the economy of language. Everything in it's proper place. Too many words can look like too many commas: cluttered at best, clunky at worst.

My favorite book on the subject is one everyone should own. Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. If you were bogged down by E.B. White's Elements of Style, as I was, you won't be by this one. It's as entertaining as it is instructive. My favorite quote from the book? "Don't be stupid."

Words the apple butter "ho" might have heeded.


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Kathleen Irene Paterka on Wed, December 03, 2014 at 1:31:11 said:

Eileen, you’re a woman after my own heart. I hate reading things in print or online which contain grammar and spelling errors. Then again, I’m also easily confused (see above sentence). Should I have used ‘which’ or ‘that’? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to check (Google is a girl’s best friend!) And if ‘which’ is correct, should I have used a comma before said word? T’is a dilemma!

~ Kathleen

P.S. Commas still confuse me, so I go with the camp of ‘let it make sense’. Hopefully THAT makes sense!

Elizabeth Quinn on Fri, January 16, 2015 at 3:15:31 said:

I agree wholeheartedly. A misplaced comma, misspelled word, erroneous use of the possessive, lack of recognition of a verb’s subjunctive mood, all are irritants to readers who care about good writing. Thanks, Eileen, for your perspective. It does, indeed, make you a better writer. Having just discovered your work, I look forward to enjoying your books.

    Eileen on Fri, January 16, 2015 at 1:17:36 said:

    Thank you, Elizabeth! You are a like-minded lady. Notice I hyphenated, as is grammatically correct smile

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