Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Before you call out the grammar police...

When I can't think of an appropriate picture I always just use one of Natalie Wood.

These posts would be so much eazier to write if I didn’t have to worry about spelling and punktuation. That was always one of the beauties of riting dialog. People don’t talk in grammatically correct sentences and who cares about the spellling because the audience is just hereing the words and not seeing dem. (Shit. That last sentence is in fact a question. I forgot the question mark.)

After having proper grammar drummed into my head in school it was difficult at first to not write dialogue stilted but correct. Eventually you learn that flow and writing conversationally is the key. Then its (or it’s) fun. All bets are off.

Until you have to write prose again (or FRASIER).

(This is the punctuation that is the screenwriter’s best friend -- … Use it to represent any pause. Believe me, it… works!)

It’s (or its) amazing how much grammar you forget. And part of the problem – at least for me --, is that if you (or in my case, me) tend to write quickly, you’re trying to get your ideas on the page while their in your head and I can’t do that when your stopping midthoughtwse to ponder whether there’s a comma here or this participle is dangling or there is no such word as midthoughtwise. (That last sentence may or may not be a question. I’m not sure.)

Back to script writing, you see this in rewrite sessions. There are monitors in the room allowing the writers to see the script as the assistant is typing it. Someone pitches a joke, everyone laughs, the assistant starts transcribing it, and there’s always one asshole who sees himself as the Grammar Police barking out that there should be a comma there, or that’s a semi-colon. That shit is “Proofer’s challenge”. Let whoever proofs the script deal with that. Don’t slow down the process by blurting out that dad needs to be capitalized.

Back to prose: Spellcheck and grammar programs help somewhat. A wiggly green line will appear under something the computer doesn’t feel is right. Half the time it’s (or its) useful and half the time I’m thinking, “what the hell is wrong with this?” Or, “the computer just doesn’t get me.”

Same with spell check – it catches a lot of mistakes but misses others. If a word can be spelled correctly two ways or if you write in the wrong word but it’s an actual word -- : that too won’t get caught. Sometimes I remember the little hints we got in school. Principle or principal – the principal is your “pal”. But as I get older my brain is beginning to fill up with the Infield Fly Rule and where I put my keys and those little tips are fading from memory.

I actually do know the difference between it’s and its (it’s is only used as a contraction for it is) but there are others that I’ll admit, I’m guessin’.

And there are certain words I just don’t know how to spell. So I type in some approximation and let Spell Check correct it. If I ever have to write a letter in longhand I am so screwed. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

The point is… from time to time… you will see grammatical mistakes, misspelled words, made up words, tenses changing, inconsistencies, italics for no reason, and other egregious clerical errors. I do try to proof these posts but things still slip by. So I beg your indulgence. I don’t have an editor. And even one of those doesn’t guarantee (that’s one of the words I always struggle with) 100% accuracy. When I got the galley proof for my book IT’S GONE… NO, WAIT A MINUTE (notice the ….?) this is what it said on the cover:

GALLEY PROFF

49 comments :

Rob Greenberg said...

All is forgiven... unless you are President and tweet about Hamberters.

Anonymous said...

is that if you (or in my case, me)

Should be I not me

Dave Creek said...

I understand your (not you're) pain. I was the only web producer for a time at the Louisville TV station I retired from (see, I don't mind ending a sentence with a preposition). Reporters who were posting stories to the web complained that they were used to broadcast style and not print and were uncertain how to adapt. Some of them even would leave in the occasional phrase "as you see here" from their broadcast copy. That's fine when you're watching their TV story, but not when you're reading text off a screen.

I would explain to them that broadcast copy is the only thing written in that style, and that every magazine, newspaper (remember newspapers), and web story they read was in print style. It shouldn't be that unfamiliar to them. Many of them "got it" after that.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about grammar rules. Most of them were self-invented by busy bodies who have no idea of how English works. Take the classic "don't end a sentance with a preposition". The King James Bible uses it, so does Shakespeare and virtually any other major writer. So why can't we use it? Remember, just as no critic had a statue raised to them, virtually no grammarian is considered a major literary figure.

YEKIMI said...

Hey! You only have three dots after IT'S GONE. There should be at least five!

404 said...

I can not, for the life of me, ever spell "necessarily" correctly. Not without having to look it up first (like I just did).

Mike Barer said...

The toughest thing for me grammar wise is not ending a sentence with a preposition. Also, I got called out on Facebook for using Its as a possessive using an apostrophe. One lady was bold enough to ask how I could grow up without knowing that there is no apostrophe in Its when used as a possessive.

ELS said...

Oy vey, that was painful!

Grammar and spelling important, but the context is necessary too. If the most important reader of the script - the actor - can read it, that ought to be sufficient. When you get your Academy Award for the script, THEN you can have a proof reader fix it.

kent said...

Over the years I've noticed you swap then and than. I figured it was due to voice dictation but it's happened a lot. Just sayin'. Knew you'd be grateful if I pointed out out.

Anonymous said...

There are grammar rules you should not break in your writing. But that changes over time. (starting a sentence with a conjunction)
There are other grammar rules you can consider breaking or should break.
Ending a sentence with a preposition can often be avoided, but it is certainly Ok to break it on occasion:
Churchill's statement that ending with a preposition is "something up with which I shall not put".

Splitting an infinitive is another rule you should avoid in most situations but the best example of when to break it is also the most famous "To boldly go where no man has gone before". Boldly does not retain the sentence's meaning anywhere else in the sentence.

Ben Scripps said...

Thanks for this--I'd always wondered why I can never remember the specifics of the infield fly rule, but apparently it's because I know the difference between "principal" and "principle". Maybe knowledge of one precludes the knowledge of the other? :-)

I was an English minor in college, and have struggled mightily for years to keep my grammar police instincts contained. It still doesn't stop me from gnashing my teeth every time someone writes something like "Their going to be their at 4pm". (You honestly have no idea just how much it pained me to write that example.)

spence said...

Did Natalie Wood ever find what she and her dog were looking for? 🤔

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

With the chicks, I always found it useful to end my sentence with a proposition.

SharoneRosen said...

I've been writing a comic soap opera for the cable access channel in my retirement community (I can't believe it, myself, but I live in a land formerly known as "Leisure World." It's actually like living in summer camp, but... I digress). I have to remind my self constantly that sentence fragments are okay and grammatical errors are the way you (that is we) talk. I've had to surrender my grammar police credentials to the authorities.

Ed H. said...

Grammar: The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit.

Brian said...

Thank you for this post and this blog. The worst I saw was when the Good Lady Wife and I were on vacation and the motel had just changed owners. The banner out front read that the establishment was "...Formally Days Inn", which I think might be the old name, OR it may mean we need to call this, "The Right Days Inn" or "Ms. Days Inn".

marka said...

Who cares about spelling mistakes in a blog? Or in a script? Or on the cover of a prooof.

What DOES bother me is not using "me" when it shoud be "I" or vice versa. Drives me nuts.

Tommy Raiko said...

Among the many contributions Star Trek has made to culture is its popularized split infinitive ("To boldly go...") as convenient counter-argument to those doggedly opposed to such grammatical styling.

Liggie said...

I heard of a short film about a woman who was so infuriated by her husband's improper grammar, she was going to murder him the next time he uttered a grammatically incorrect sentence. The name of the film: "Irregardless".

Anonymous said...

As a long-time reader of By Ken Levine, I know this is a particular sore point with you. I know you went to UCLA, but now your old and you do grammar like you went to USC. But don't take these comments from readers so hard. Think of these as notes from you're favorite helpful network exec, not smug jabs from liberal arts majors working at something like Modern Plumbing. We is on your side, buddy, and whose going to say you be wrong?

-30-

Craig Gustafson said...

I once had an e-mail exchange with Larry Gelbart (!), in which I acted not so much as Grammar Police as Joke Police. I was in a production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." The publisher had recently had the scripts of all of their shows retyped, and there was a typo in "Forum" which killed a joke. Mr. Gelbart responded, saying that the typists at NBC radio would have driven me nuts. They used to "correct" the deliberate malapropisms in "Duffy's Tavern."

Anonymous said...

I'm the worlds worst speller and typist. Spellcheck has a nervous break down every time I turn on my computer.

Paul Duca said...

Or in this case...an inappropriate picture of Natalie Wood

Michael said...

Red Barber, who was the mentor to Young Scully, said that when he was in college he took a rhetoric class. He said it was vital to his future because if he said something that might not be right grammatically, he knew it was right rhetorically. And I think of Red's southern expressions, and Dizzy Dean saying a guy slud into third. The key has been, are they understandable.

I am a great admirer of Bob Costas, and there's an interview with him where Jon Stewart said that it's incredible that he can think and speak in sentences and paragraphs. I've always thought it was a problem, actually, because he made it sound as if he had decided that every word and punctuation mark had to be perfectly parsed, and that is not how we talk.

MikeKPa. said...

Don't sweat over it. I just ignore them. See them all the time in emails from friends. I know what your saying (I know, it's you're). If spellcheck isn't available, you can always see if Kelsey Grammer (or is it Grammar?) is. He must have spare time to do some proofreading.

Unknown said...

Gud artikal!

Jay Moriarty

Mark--> said...

I got called on the carpet once by one of my students for using "irregardless" in a lecture.

The next class period, I worked the word "disirregardless" into the lesson. I never heard about grammar again.

Tom Galloway said...

Back when I had to review resumes for technical writer positions at a large company, it surprised me how many resumes had a job title as "Principle Technical Writer". Particularly since frequently it was for a company widely considered at the time not to have any principles. I was always tempted to respond pointing all this out and ending with "So if you're a Principle Writer at a place without principles, what is it you write about?".

Favorite typo was when I went to an HR rep I knew and said "Got a question. Just to be sure, it's not age discrimination if I turn down an applicant in part because their resume says they got their Ph.D. in 1884 [sic]?"

Troy McClure said...

I once saw a job ad for a proofreader. The ad title was correctly spelled, but in the body of the ad, it said the vacancy was for a poofreader.

I once passed a kebab joint that had a sign in its window that said "Chicken kebabes."

Another time I passed a foreign run fast food joint that had a sign advertising its vacancy for a waitress. Unfortunately, the sign, which obviously intended to tell applicants to inquire within, said "Enter waitress inside."

And on the website of a restaurant local to me, their online menu lists "Diet Cock" among their drinks.

Troy McClure said...

By the way, a trending topic on twitter today that lots of stars and directors took part in was to list your 5 perfect movies. Might be a topic for one of your posts.

Fed by the muse said...

The other day Inside Edition played a clip of a kangaroo hopping down an empty Adelaide, SA city street. If you can't tell the gender of a mammal, in this instance all the viewer can see is the kangaroo moving away from the camera vantage point, would you then describe the animal as an "it?"

Ted. said...

I was a professional proofreader for a while, back in the days before you could look everything up on the internet. We had to use paper dictionaries and other reference books (including Leonard Maltin's movie guide).

My most difficult day on the job was when one of the articles mentioned screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.

Frederic Alden said...

Don't feel bad about not having an editor, Ken. I have the distinct impression from extensive reading on the internet that that occupation no longer exists.
And I can barely write my name anymore let alone a sentence or two...it's just a skill that has faded from disuse.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've learned to enjoy your blog despite the way you misuse commas. If it's any consolation, a lot of people make the same mistake.

PolyWogg said...

My apologies Ken, if I was the source of your grammar police post. I wasn't trying to harass you, I was in fact delighted to see that an expert can still make spellchecker-proof errors like us amateur folk.

Keep typing and Carrie on.

Paul
aka PolyWogg

VP81955 said...

I copy daily entries of "Carole & Co.", my longtime classic Hollywood blog originating at LiveJournal (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/), to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. When I copy, I write a new intro for each entry; unfortunately, I never can be assured the lead photo I've chosen for LiveJournal will be picked up by Facebook or Twitter. At times, either or both will use a picture later in the story...and sometimes, it won't pick up an illustration at all. The result? I often look a bit ridiculous in "translation." By now, I've shrugged it off, and hope many of my Facebook or Twitter readers have, too.

Mike Barer said...

With my blog, the issue is often, when to capitalize a title and when to not.

kent said...

Nice picture of Ms.Wood, she had great assets.

MikeN said...

'Begs the question' does not mean 'raises the question', and is often misused in interviews.

MikeN said...

'Begs the question' does not mean 'raises the question', and is often misused in interviews.

Just like with the spellchecker, you should not be using those rearview cameras in cars to avoid hitting things.

Pat Reeder said...

When I was in high school, I took a college English course to rack up some credits in advance, and the teacher took 50 points off your grade if you used a comma in place of a semi-colon. That quickly drills punctuation rules into your head. To this day, the phrase "comma splice" fills me with existential dread. I actually read James Thurber's essays on grammar for fun ("the container for the thing contained!") Also, I don't care what the changing times dictate, there must be two spaces between sentences, damn it!

Writing, editing and proofreading our radio service and Internet material for years has kept my anal obsession with spelling and punctuation alive. Fortunately, I've never inflicted it on others because I work alone at a computer. Still, despite all those years and all the proofreading, I occasionally see my work online and spot a mistake I missed. It makes me want to kick myself. Or, since this seems to be the norm now, to boldly kick myself.

DrBOP said...

Well here's a way to not have to give a good goose-fart about punctuation/spelling/usage, and cut right to the passion of the moment. You would also be helping vision-challenged (oy!) viewers.
You have to promise us that you'll let us in on the salary negotiations ;>)

https://nypost.com/2020/04/17/joe-buck-rejects-imlives-1-million-offer-to-announce-porn/

McAlvie said...

I admit to being a bit of a grammar nerd, myself. I do think good grammar is important, as it reflects the ability to communicate well. This business of "well, they know what I meant" is just laziness. A writer's job is to communicate their thoughts and ideas, and should not require the reader to figure out what they meant. That said, I agree that speech is different, and vernacular in informal writing is acceptable provided words are used correctly and readers are not forced to become cryptologists. I'm a nerd, not an authoritarian.

I agree with Pat Reeder - 2 spaces after a period! Don't give me excuses about kerning - a tiny dot is not enough to distinguish the end of one sentence from the beginning of another. Kids these days … just wait until their eyes get a little older, then this fad will go the way of the dodo bird.

Maurice M. said...

Hey Ken,

I wrote a lot using typewriters back in the day, and adopted word processing in 2005. But one thing I noted after some years is that both my productivity and the voice in my writing declined after the switch. Ultimately I realized that the problem is that writing and editing are really two different processes, and whereas on paper you'd just write the line again and cross out the one that didn't work, the ability to cursor back and fiddle with the text tends to keep bouncing between creation and refinement. So what I found works better for me is to just write straight ahead, and screw the typos and bad grammar. Getting the idea down and the flow is what's important. You can always fix it later. Computers are great for that.

One other thing I do is write a scene and then come back and write it again, from scratch, without looking at the previous attempt, so I "go with the flow" as it occurs to me. Later I'll read over both versions and see what I like from each, and then either I'll go with one or the other or I'll use the better bits from each.

MikeN said...

What are these grammar people going to do with Billions, where they use 'They' to refer to a single character?

Don K. said...

Was there an article after the picture of Natalie Wood? Everything after that was a blur.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Ingratiating photo. How do you spell bendt over?

Charles Bogle said...

Be careful with ellipsis ... in texts! I understand the trend is to use them to express passive-aggressive anger, that you're unhappy with something the recipient has done.

Prairie Perspective said...

Thought you would enjoy this, sir. I did, and looks like both Tom and Natalie did, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dbZqlkfYPg