Can a column by grammar snob bring in readers?
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist who lives in Pasadena with her husband and four cats. But she also writes a weekly column about grammar that runs in a number of small papers in California, Texas and Florida.
It is God’s work, no doubt, but in a world where the primary communication tool of the President of the United States is a 140-character fragment, her efforts would seem a long-shot. A former staffer at the Los Angeles Times, she employs a light and airy tone to what might otherwise be a very dreary topic – but in the end we are still talking gerunds, past participles and split infinitives.
And yet, there Casagrande is on the website of the Huntington Beach Independent, which is a unit of the Los Angeles Times. She has also published two books: “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies,” and “Mortal Syntax: 101 Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs -- Even If You’re Right.” And she writes scripts for television trailers.
After viewing her website and reading some of her material, all I can say is that I wish that she’d been teaching at Grandview School in Manhattan Beach about 55 years ago. I might have had a chance.
A recent column focused on parallel construction, where she teased readers to find the problem with the following sentence:
"The program addresses the energy needs of a wide range of industries including healthcare, data centers, commercial real estate, warehouses, hotels, heavy and light industry."
I couldn’t really find the problem, but here’s her example of how parallel construction is supposed to work:
"Brad walked to the library, the post office and the park."
This sentence “attaches three different objects to a single stem. It really means "Brad walked to the library, Brad walked to the post office and Brad walked to the park. But to avoid all that repetition, the sentence cuts out the repeated subject and verb, forcing three objects to share the same stem.”
An easier lift for me was her column on spelling, where she noted some embarrassing mistakes by our president:
Neither does our president. In his first tweet as POTUS — posted at 11:57 a.m. on Jan. 21 — @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “I am honered [sic] to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!” (He later deleted the message.)
How about ‘begging the question,’ one of my father’s favorite phrases that he used correctly and made sure his sons did too as a result of him watching William F. Buckley’s Sunday show.
Traditionally, "beg the question" does not mean to raise a question. Instead, it's a term from logic that refers to any of several logical fallacies — stuff like answering a question by posing the same question to the questioner. It's a circular logic, of sorts.
And one that has always baffled me: whether to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ in front of the word ‘history?’
The choice between "a" and "an" depends on the sound that immediately follows it. If it's a vowel sound, as in "understudy," you use "an." If it's a consonant sound, as in "university," you use "a."
Yes, both these words start with a vowel. But the sound that begins "university" is a consonant Y. "Historic" and "historical" are, in theory at least, pronounced with a consonant H. So in theory, they should be preceded by "a" and not "an."
But the words are sometimes pronounced with a silent or near-silent H.
Plus, some experts say that, because the accent is on the second syllable, the obscured first syllable benefits from "an." That is, an "n" before "historic" helps the listener hear the first syllable.
Got it. I’m pulling for Jane and I’m a new fan.