Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gratitude Practice

The truth is, my day started off badly enough yesterday that by the time I headed for school to tutor, I realized I'd better try to turn things around by counting my blessings as I walked along.

The main problem was nosebleed. Is it indoor heating? Is it the Flonase I took, briefly, on my doc's recommendation? Is it Old Age of the Nose?

Whatever it is, I can't remember having nosebleeds until a month ago, and now I've had several. Anyway, yesterday I leapt from bed determined to do my morning stretches, and instead spent the time with my nostrils pressed together with my tissue-filled left hand -- "ten minutes, and don't stop to check midway!" --  while, with my right, I scoured blood drips from my bedroom carpet.

Blood! It's awful! Sticky and thick and gushing! I think nosebleeds would be good cures for people tempted to murder.

Then later, there's the blob of rolled up kleenex sticking out of the nostrils, just in case. Not a good look for me.

Anyway, here's the positive outcome. I was thankful for the blueberries I ate for breakfast. I had thawed them from my freezer. I myself had put them in there, in the ziploc bag, after my traditional midsummer picking trip to Bybee Farms, in the shadow of Mt Si, with my pal, Dana.

That's a lot to be thankful for, all in the shape of a little round berry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Geoffrey Pullum Speaks at UW

I was excited tonight to attend a sold-out lecture at UW's Kane Hall on -- grammar! The Scandal of English Grammar Teaching: Ignorance of Grammar, Damage to Writing Skills, and What We Can Do About It .

But it was a bummer. I didn't walk out until most of the question period was over, but it wasn't easy.

First, it was one of those wretched talks where everything he says is Power Point-ed on screen. He could have emailed it.

Second, he was focussed on trivia. I kept thinking, Who cares? He talked about esoteric rules of grammar and why we should ignore them -- but most of us already do. When was the last time you seriously worried about splitting an infinitive? Or about using "since" to mean "because," when it turns out it's only to be used to show a time relationship?

Third, he was mean. He sneered at EB White and The Elements of Style, a book I have found eminently sensible and funny. Whenever he quoted a White drollery, he willfully ignored the humor and interpreted it as nonsense. He faulted White for his advice on avoiding "they" as a singular pronoun, as if White were writing today instead of mid-20th century, when the so-called universal "he" was acceptable. Pullum's own apparent viewpoint is, if it sounds right, it is right, but when White said something similar, Pullum accused him of being wishy-washy.

Pullum displayed an actual undergrad paper which had been wrongly labeled by a confused TA with passive voice errors. Right, that wasn't passive voice. But just because somebody mis-identifies it doesn't mean passive voice is not a problem.

Set up a straw man, knock him down.

During the question period, a lady raised her hand to share the old chestnut attributed to Churchill, who reportedly said about sentences ending in prepositions, "Up with that I will not put." Okay, it's hard to believe a linguist like Pullum would not have heard it, but Pullum replied that he was so tired of this line that he had suggested in his blog that people who repeated it should be hunted down and stopped. Bet that made her feel great.

My opinion? Dr Pullum is not a happy fella. Does he actually care about communicating?

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies