Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Life of a Reluctant Grammar Nazi

Any one will tell you, I'm no English language policeman. I'm far from perfect myself, I have no reason or right to judge anyone else; in fact a few I know would tell you I've been horrible at keeping my it's out of my its throughout my long and un-illustrious amateur career.

That said, I do on occasion correct someone if they're saying a word in hopes it means x, when in fact it means Q, or if their pronunciation of something is so wrong it would serve to embarrass them one day when a listener might not be as tactful as I am. My dad would come up with something now and then. He was not a post high school educated man but a well read one. The only problem is, books don't come in phonetics, so at times he would blurt out what he thought was a proper word or phrase that simply wasn't. Luckily, we all knew what he meant, and at the same time fearful enough of hurting his feelings that we'd let it slide without correction; until one day... He'd been saying it for years, and I'd always ignored it. But now that I co-owned a large sailboat, he had occasion to use it again and again, and upon the 3000th again, I could ignore it no longer.

"Sorry dad" I said as calmly and quietly as I could; "but the place where one keeps a boat is not "the marianna". That's a variation of the name used by a character on Gilligan's Island. It's Marina, like Mah ree nah."

He said nothing, only frowned and grunted. In fact he said nothing for a week or more. I debated apologizing, telling him that I'd looked it up and I was wrong, that marianna was a harbor with docks and gasoline and a potato chip vending machine... but I couldn't. He was my dad. I didn't want him out in public one day explaining to the guys at the bar how his son and him had pulled this big old sailboat into the marianna, and then suffer his rage when he said "why the f didn't you tell me!!! They laughed their asses off!!!" It didn't matter though. I'm pretty sure from then on he rarely spoke of the water at all, and never of a place where boats might be. Unless it was a dock; "dock" is kinda mistake proof.

My ex-boss is a good guy. Let's start there. But then, he's a character. He should have spent most of his childhood in jail. He did spend most of his service time either in the Navy Brig or in a southeast Asian holding cell. Then he spent the next 10 years as a serious alcoholic. He's been sober for 20 some years, but his time under the devil's thumb marked him. None of that is really pertinent here, but it lends a flavor to the story. He had a high school education, but only because in the 50s and 60s they would pass anyone that showed up on graduation day. So let's say though he's not dumb by any means, his language and geography skills are lacking. The other day I was counting mailboxes as is my wont, when the map I was following became indecipherable. I needed a little help with my directions, so I called the big cheese. "It says I have to turn at such and so and go to the cul de sac. Well the map runs out but the street keeps going for another mile before it ends. What the hell does it mean?"

He kept saying this word I couldn't understand. I had to drive down Da New Bee until the next street crossed and then u-turn. I looked for Da New Bee on the map, and for a moment I couldn't find it. But then, finally, there it was. Danube. "It's Dan youb, like the European river" I said. "He didn't answer. Then he said "Just take Da New Bee to the next street and turn around." 

Boss. Dad. Semantics. Sometimes, might makes right.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the chuckle. DK sometimes looks at me and says "I said it that way deliberately" -- Bizarre (biz-a-ree) a case in point.