I'm against New Year's resolutions on principle. If a person has flaws Dec. 31, she should face them squarely then and there. Waiting 24 hours for a ball to drop merely sets a precedent for future procrastination.
But the gobs of time I waste on electronic media have filled me with the desire to do something positive, to help in any way I can, to steer good people away from the incorrect and the unclear and shove them gently in the direction of precision and truth.
This, then, is my resolution: If I can't cure dread diseases, fix the climate and explain the universe beyond our solar system -- and I can't -- I can assist on the English side.
I did take English -- quite a bit, in fact. I spent my first three years of college electing literature and writing courses for my own amusement. Only when an adviser suggested pointedly that I couldn't go on treating the English department like an all-you-can-eat buffet did I reluctantly focus on something else entirely and graduate. Still, what I remember most fondly about college are those English courses.
Not that I can lecture on grammatical rules and parts of speech.
My grade school teachers probably covered all that, but I was a daydreamy type, often lost in thought, so most grammatical terms -- passive voice, subordinate clause, subjective case -- mean no more to me than the owner's manual of a Nissan Sentra in the original Japanese.
What I do know about English I picked up from casual reading -- the Betsy-Tacy series, Edward Eager's books and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, among others. It was like learning Russian history by watching Boris and Natasha plot against Rocky and Bullwinkle, but what I lacked in rules and hard facts, I made up for in sheer quantity.
Therefore, internet brawlers, a few guidelines:
* DO be careful with fewer and less. Fewer refers to things that can be counted and less refers to something that can't be counted. Too often, I read online sentences such as, "What we need are less crybabies," and "If only we had fewer Kool-Aid." "People!" I want to say. "It's fewer crybabies and less Kool-Aid!" And then I wonder why I'm teaching these combatants to shoot properly.
* DON'T put apostrophes in possessive pronouns, as in, "The standoff is into it's second week," and DON'T add apostrophes as if they create plurals: "People are talking about building wall's." If I could choose either eating ice cream every day without consequences or erasing all apostrophe-related errors from the earth, I'd take the second one.
* DO believe spelling counts. All over the internet, people who think spelling isn't important are writing soliders for soldiers, defiantly for definitely, looser for loser, Bengazi for Benghazi, and smocking for smoking. Not only are they often scorned for carelessness, they offer others an excuse to dismiss their thoughts altogether.
* While we're on the topic, DON'T mention Benghazi at all. We've bandied it about for seven years, and as topics go, it's as faded as old linoleum. Let the poor metropolis be. Like Dallas, the city deserves to be left alone to become known for other things, though by the way, internet references to Benghazi, tiresome as they are, are excellent examples of synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole or vice versa.
* DO accept that alot and alright aren't words. I know, it seems like they should be, but they aren't. You may as well wonder if a snake is a whole animal or a tail with a face. It's pointless.
* DON'T expect me to defend sentence diagramming. I'm fussy about spelling, sentence structure and clarity, but I've never understood getting a sentence down and ripping it limb from limb just because you can. It's too much like canned trophy hunting. Those who enjoy diagramming sentences can diagram until the cows come home (cows, subject; come, verb; home, adverb) but don't expect me to participate.
Finally, I'm not sure about "home, adverb." I was guessing. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, care to weigh in?
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.