The Gremlins of Grammar

My daughter had a little accident in her car yesterday.

I was sitting in my fav coffee spot, at Indro GJ’s, when an elderly lady at the table next to me said this to her friend. I hid my laughter in the froth of my cappuccino. I’m sure if the ‘little accident’ she referred to involved a human mishap, rather than a Corolla mishap, she would not have brought it up in public.

Grammar plays games with us. It can take our well meaning ideas and sentences and contort them until they are parodies of our intentions. And just like gremlins in computers, sometimes it is as if grammar is alive and intentionally out to get us.

On one level, there is nothing wrong with the ‘little accident’ sentence. We understand that the daughter was involved in an accident with her car. And the sentence defines the kind of accident even further. It was little. But the problem with nouns, verbs and adjectives is that some of them go together to create meaning with themselves. Like cliches or labels. We read within that sentence a deeper meaning based on the placement of those two words together. One that taps into our cultural and social idioms. ‘Little accident’ has an altogether different connotation to ‘minor accident’, though those two adjectives seem, on the surface, to be interchangeable synonyms. For an everyday coffee drinking, socialising person, the subtle distinctions may not matter a great deal, but for writers, it is a big deal. Our mind strings meaning together with the choice and placement of each word in a sentence, and each sentence in a paragraph. Drama can as easily turn to melodrama, or tension to humor, with a small, misplaced – or carelessly chosen – word.

Here are some of my favorite grammatical gremlins from Church notices.

This being Easter Sunday, we will now ask Mrs Lewis to please come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

Don’t neglect your verbs.

Wednesday the ladies liturgy will meet. Mrs Johnson will sing “Put me in my little bed accompanied by the pastor.”

Love your commas and respect your speech marks. One slip and a church singer can become a church sinner.

Low self-esteem group will meet Thursday at 7pm. Please use the back door.

Your mind will join the dots.

You’ve gotta love language.

You can check out more examples at http://www.jnweb.com/funny/church-notices.html

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5 Responses to “The Gremlins of Grammar”

  1. There’s no other language like English – the most number of words and meanings of any world language, with more historical inputs than a mongrel dog – don’t you just adore it!

  2. Tony Pitman Says:

    Make sure you take a look at http://www.engrish.com – that’ll make you giggle too.

    A recent gem (warning sign near a Chinese pond): “Take the child. Fall into water carefully.”

  3. Laughed out loud at the low self-esteem group required to use the back door. Too funny.

    Here’s an article that my boss, Dianna Booher, author of “Booher’s Rules of Business Grammar: 101 Fast and Easy Ways to Correct the Most Common Errors,” wrote about grammar gremlins that not only change the meaning of what you’re saying, but may change the outcome of your job interview.

    http://www.gottamentor.com/Uploads/File_2471.doc

    All the best,
    Rachel

  4. Oh, I love Indro GJs! 😀

    I just found your blog via the Courier Mail article. Congrats on the contract! *applause* I’ve subscribed now, so I’ll be back 😉

  5. eh. really like it 🙂

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