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Elizabeth Dutton


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Here’s the thing: Grammar Hammer

I have always been an anxious person. It’s just my nature. Part of that anxiety is in making sure everything is in its right place. Not in an OCD kind of way, but more in a “hoping against hope at controlling the chaos around me” kind of way. Despite being raised by a commie/hippie/eccentric/subversive/bank lawyer(huh?)/bohemian family, I like rules. But I also hate rules. I think that’s the Irish Catholic in me. We are a complex people. One set of rules I have always respected, yet at times flouted, is basic English grammar. I’ve had a copy of Elements of Style since grade school. It’s not so much that I love the restrictions of it all. More than anything, I just don’t want people to find out that I am an idiot. Play by the rules, jump through the hoops, get your message across.

I now find myself grading college essays and noticing every slip of the comma, every pronoun in disagreement with its antecedent. This dogged pursuit of errors in grammar and mechanics is now bleeding over into my everyday life.

Here’s the thing: I have become a really annoying person. I mean, I have always been annoying but now I am starting to annoy myself. I am a full-time grammar officer and it is causing me great distress. I want to be breezy and without concern for properly placed apostrophes. But no.

There’s a sign in front of a church I pass on my way to work. It recently read: “JESUS LISTENS WHEN YOUR ON YOUR KNEES” This is the least egregious of their misadventures in English (and I won’t even get started on their fetishization of the American flag…). However, this announcement of theirs irritated the ever-loving shit out of me. Every. Single. Morning.

This glaring error made me very anxious. It has nothing to do with me and I should just let it go. I mean, who really cares? And I suppose people understand what they are trying to say. But maybe this little erosion in language skills is part of the reason I grade essays that are littered with idiotic mistakes. LOOSE AND LOSE ARE TWO DIFFERENT WORDS. ITS DOES NOT MEAN THE SAME THING AS IT’S. THERE IS NEVER A NEED FOR A COMMA BETWEEN THE SUBJECT AND THE VERB IN A SIMPLE SENTENCE. These little errors add up and pretty soon we are living in “Idiocracy.” (To be honest, I think we already are…)

I want to dress up like the Angel Gabriel and come bursting in that church one day, trumpet a-blaring, to deliver the message that “your” is possessive (and not by the devil) and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” I understand that maybe they didn’t have enough space on the sign board or maybe there wasn’t an extra “E” floating around, but then say something else and say it correctly.

The nuns in high school used to remind us that sloth, a deadly sin, wasn’t just physical but also intellectual sloth. We have these brains, so let us use them. So says the lady rambling away on her blog. So says the non-practicing Catholic. So says the pseudo-Buddhist. I have now, once more, annoyed myself. Deepest apologies if I’ve annoyed you, too.

You know I love you.

2 comments on “Here’s the thing: Grammar Hammer

  1. threecharms says:

    Are you pro Oxford comma?


    1. I rarely use it, mainly because I got so used to ditching it in business writing and journalism. It melts away under the glare of fluorescent lights reflecting off cubicle walls, you know. I make my students use it, but I leave it out of my own creative writing. And I kind of hate myself for having an opinion on it. xo


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