No.7: Pobody’s Nerfect
I’m just going to come out and say it.
I am not a fan of grammar bullies.
In my opinion, picking on someone for a brief grammatical slip or a badly placed apostrophe is not big and it certainly isn’t clever. It particularly gets my goat when anyone is publicly pulled up on their spoken grammar. If you are correcting someone’s spoken grammar outside of the classroom then you are only revealing your own basic misunderstanding of the nature of language itself, namely that it evolves and most of that evolution occurs orally.
Leave the ‘would of’ers alone. They’re not hurting anyone and everyone knows what they mean. We wouldn’t have ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’ or ‘you’re’ or indeed ‘wouldn’t’ if it weren’t for trailblazers like the ‘would of’s. Just because whoever makes The Rules has decided to draw the line there for now doesn’t mean that what you are saying is ultimately more intelligent because you scrupulously over-pronounce all your ‘h’s to the extent that even Henry Higgins would be satisfied with your pronunciation of his own name.
Indeed, one of my favourite extracurricular activities is to catch out these sorts of people who are forever hooting ‘whom’ at their friends and family by hiding intentional exceptions to The Rules in my conversation. For me there is nothing quite so satisfying as getting the chance to explain The Rules to someone who is trying to show off their own superior grasp of them to someone else’s detriment.
“On the contrary, my learned friend,” it is an endless joy to parry back at such people, “I think you’ll find that in the sentence ‘Clare asked Mary and me to go to Hay Literary Festival with her’ that ‘Mary and me’ are the object, not the subject, of the sentence. If you find it difficult to remember simply try to remove Mary from the sentence and see if it works or not. Don’t worry, sometimes even I get confused.”
Herein ends my rant.
I just want you to know that I am not, never have been and never will be, a grammar bully. (I may indeed be a grammar bully bully but that is quite another thing entirely.)
However, these creatures are not without their uses. In fact, I might recommend that you even enlist the services of your friendliest neighbourhood grammar bully when you write your covering letter.
If, on the other hand, you are one yourself I hope I have not offended you. I am told that grammar bullies can be perfectly acceptable human beings in all other aspects of their lives. Indeed, some of my closest friends are grammar bullies, and I’m sure you’re one of the lovelier grammar ‘instructors’ of this world. Now here at last is your chance to use your powers for good.
The fact is, little niggling mistakes in a covering letter stand out and they don’t create the best impression.
More to the point, there is an increased probability that your covering letter will be read by someone with at least a vague inclination towards the grammar bully end of the spectrum. In my experience a larger percentage of publishing types have leanings of this persuasion. That is not to say that they aren’t also all perfectly lovely people but you can be sure that they almost all understand The Rules thoroughly and will probably be used to keeping an eagle eye out for mistakes on a daily basis.
These are the people who you want to impress.
So proofread. Proofread until you begin to lose sight of what this letter you’re writing is even for. Look up the word ‘particularly’ so many times that it loses all meaning and goes a bit weird. Check every ‘your’ and ‘you’re’, don’t let a single ‘too’ sneak past you masquerading as a ‘to’ and make sure that there are only ‘would have’s to be seen.
And then proofread some more. Get your friends and family in on it. Everyone likes to be helpful and we all secretly enjoy the chance to point out someone else’s mistakes, don’t we? If we’re all entirely honest? That’s where grammar bullies come from, after all.
Send out a covering letter that you are confident is not going to show you up. Do not give the grammar bullies a chance to get one over on you. Together we can defeat them with our impeccably placed commas and our appropriate use of the semicolon.
Don’t let the grammar bullies grind you down. Proofread instead.
Oh and one extra, very important thing I have to add. Take particular care to ensure that you spell the agent’s name and the title of the agency you are submitting to correctly. Nothing says, “I have not put much thought into this,” like a covering letter addressed to Mrs Darley at the Darling Anderson Agency.
By the way, it’s Vicki with a ‘ck’ and an ‘i’. I wouldn’t dream of pulling anyone up on it but just so you know. Vicki. Vicki Le Feuvre. Much appreciated.
p.s. to any grammar bullies reading this please be aware that any and all mistakes you may find in this blog post are entirely intentional and were only put there to annoy you personally. Go on, resist the urge to point them out to me. I dare you.
By Vicki Le Feuvre