Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Playing by the Rules

By April Moore

Over dinner with my mom the other night, we talked about books and what we're each currently reading. When I told her I spent the afternoon reading grammar books, she looked at me as though I said, "kitchen appliance manuals." Her blank expression then changed to a look of understanding and she shrugged. "You always did like rules."

She's right; I do. As a child, I couldn't stand when other kids changed the rules of a game mid-play. Or had their own "house-rules" that clearly deviated off the instructions that accompanied the game. No, you don't get a pie for every question you get right in Trivial Pursuit! You have to land on the pie space!

Yes, I was one of those kids . . . and yes, growing up was tough when no one wanted to play board games with me. Even as a relatively easy-going adult, I still value the confines of ordered play. It's one of the reasons our Trivial Pursuit games go on forrrevvverrr. Given my passion for ordinance and regulation, it's no wonder I'm a stickler for grammar rules, proper punctuation, and my steadfast conviction of never using the word snuck. Okay, so I find immense pleasure in reading books on grammar. They assure me there is a way to institute order and create a smooth road in which words can travel and sail along in a coherent, organized manner.

When I drove home from dinner, my aversion to rule-breaking was never more evident. When another driver made a turn and crossed over lanes instead of turning into the lane closest to them--like they're supposed to--I grumbled under my breath. To me, that's like punctuation outside of quotation marks. Keep that comma close to the word! Don't turn into the outside lane! (Maybe that's how things are done in England, pal, but not here.) A tailgater is as annoying and dangerous as a dangling modifier. I saw an accident driving by. And not yielding to pedestrians can be as deadly as passive voice (nothing can kill a manuscript's chance at life faster). Might I add, writing your for you're is as irritating as someone running a red left turn arrow?

I see these rules of grammar being tested more and more these days--and it scares me. I don't want to live in a world where the oxford comma is no longer revered by agents and editors. Perhaps that's when I will become a rebel--a rule breaker--defending that little serial comma to the end of my days.

I realize this obsession can come off as obnoxious and soul-crushing for my talented fellow writers who ask me to look over their essay or story. I hope they know I don't let out an evil laugh, rub my hands together in a villainous manner, and whip out the blood-red pen. It's more like giving a Mathlete a list of mathematical equations to rearrange and solve. Or, if you're my software engineer-husband, a programming bug to sort out. It's why I love word searches, crossword puzzles, and finding ways to play Bananagrams by myself.

I'll try to ease up a little when it comes to game rules, because I hate to miss out on fun over a silly rule or two. In fact, I support any made-up rule that can shorten the life of a Monopoly game.


Patricia Stoltey said...

If you need a member for your "Support the Oxford Comma" gang, I'm in.

I'm sure lots of editors wish more wannabe writers shared your obsession.

Jenny said...

I agree!
Yes: rules, grammar, politeness, and Trivial Pursuit
No: snuck, left-out commas, misplaced apostrophes, and Monopoly

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