Monday, October 28, 2019

Finding the Good in Bad Grammar

I am sure you've experienced something similar to this. You and some friends get together, say to go bowling. You get a few strikes, pick up a couple of spares, and close the game with a solid 148 - far better than usual. You are happy, and say, "It always a nice night when I bowl good."

At this point, a friend butts in with, "You didn't bowl good, you bowled well."

"Huh?"

"The proper way to say it is that you bowled well." This uptight friend continues, "A bowler is good. Bowling goes well."

"Whatever," you say, reminding yourself to no longer invite that friend for nights out.

Now, that obnoxious friend - who, in your head, might look a lot like me - is technically correct. He knows the grammar rules and the different situations for using good and well, and probably has good intentions in offering the correction. And as most people know, nobody likes that guy when he does that. They quietly hate him. He is the friend known as "The Grammar Nazi," and a buzzkill. Is this hypocrisy?

Maybe. The most important part, however, is that this is an opportunity for the writer in us to learn a few things. If we know the good/well distinction, or when to use "you and I" versus "you and me," that's just great. We can learn not by spreading the good word of grammar to the uncaring, but by listening to how often people violate these rules in conversation and nobody cares.

In the real world, people do not always speak with clean, eloquent, rounded structure. People use double-negatives, they split infinitives and leave participles dangling. Even when using proper English, there is a lot of room for error. After than, well, there's slang. Dialect. Euphemisms. Awkward phrases. At the end of the day, it seems like there are more ways to screw up a conversation than get it right.

That's where the lesson comes in. Consider all the great ways where bad grammar makes a conversation natural. People will say, "When I bowl good, you and me make a nice team," and everyone understands it. The Grammar Nazi friend might be very uncomfortable, but that's his problem.

While this is a guide for dialogue, it also applies to narrative voice - first-person in particular. A narrator who uses sinful, improper terms such as, "supposably," or "I could care less," connects with the reader due to their imperfection.

As a writer, let a few slip-ups offer some flexibility to the voice. Let the conversation be the kind you would hear at the bowling alley. Preferably, on one of those nights when that grammar friend was not invited.

2 comments:

  1. I ain't got no learnin', but I gives the post to thumbs up.

    ReplyDelete