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Just like grammar used to make

April 28, 2021 at 9:19 a.m.

It’s something I’ve wanted my whole life in the newspaper business.

Waited for, but didn’t really expect to happen.

Actually what I’ve hankered for all these years with no expectations, are a couple of things.

One is being allowed to end a sentence with a preposition.

The other is being able to start a written sentence with the word “and.”

Having had a career in the business of using words, I respected but didn’t always agree with the rule not to end a sentence with a preposition. But, according to an Internet site, the rule is being relaxed for the spoken word.

The example given online was the sentence, “You don’t know with whom you’re messing.”

That’s what an indignant, but proper, adversary might say.

What’s more likely to be said in real life would be, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” Guaranteed to get our junior high English teacher’s undies in a wad, but a more understandable spoken declarative statement.

The example I recall of how tortured our language could become to be grammatically correct was the statement, “That is something with which I will not longer put.” The more direct and easier understood statement is, of course, “That’s something I will not any longer put up with.” Realistically, although the second statement would be correct under the relaxed word for prepositions, the truth is we’re more likely to say, “That’s something I ain’t putting up with.”

As far as using “And” to start a sentence, I’ve always argued, and been argued with by a former news editor, that there are certain times when a sentence yearns to be started with “And.”

How else to say with proper emphasis, “And all heck broke loose!” and thereby break my own rule about exclamation marks. I’m agin ‘em because, as I was taught, exclamation marks are substitutes for weakly written sentences that fail to express the intended emotion, excitement or importance. If you write it right, you don’t need to exclamation it. To show I wasn’t a complete stubborn jerk of an editor, I would allow reporters to use exclamation marks four times a year.

But (and it’s now OK to start sentences with conjunctions such as “but”) sometimes you just have to mess with the language. In some cases, staying within the boundaries of proper language and spelling can be stifling and get in the way of telling like it is.

For instance, while working at a faraway newspaper what seems like a hundred years ago, the boss and I clashed about wording I used in a column to describe an imaginary conversation between a homeowner and the local sheriff’s department. The sheriff, in a snit over what he considered an inadequate budget, announced he was severely reducing patrols in the rural county. My column recounted the imagined conversation when the homeowner called to report a crime. My boss said a word I used was not an actual word and the sentence should have read, “I’ve just been burglarized.” I disagreed, saying the excited homeowner wouldn’t have said he had been “burglarized.” He would, I argued, have yelled, “I’ve been burgled.”

There are occasions with words when getting it right makes it all wrong. In a column where I recalled my Uncle J.D. and I watching the The Game of the Week baseball broadcast announced by Hall of Famers, St. Louis legend Dizzy Dean and the Brooklyn Dodger’s Pee Wee Reese, a proofreader corrected ol Diz’s colorful language.

I had written about school teachers back then complaining about Dizzy not exactly speaking the King’s English. The proofreader (remember when newspaper’s had those?) unknowingly did her part when she corrected a sentence I wrote quoting Dizzy as saying “he slid into first base.” Her version was grammatically correct, but it wasn’t right. Dizzy had described the game action by saying “he slud into third base.”

And that’s the truth, nothing but.

(Jim Edwards is retired after a lifetime in the newspaper business and for 30 years worked in various positions at the Camden News, El Dorado News-Times and Banner-News of Magnolia. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of this newspaper. Email to [email protected])

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