Grammar Paranoia and the Double Negative Dilemma

Hello, everybody. My name is Joanna, and I suffer from Grammar Paranoia.

I had a fit today. The potential error beamed out of the screen at me like a beacon, gloating at my lack of perspicacity. I immediately showed the typical first symptoms: increased heart rate, shivering, and battering my forehead with the palm of my hand. Then I broke out in a cold sweat. I dropped everything I was doing, and trawled through grammar guides, gnawing anxiously at my fingernails as my stomach did somersaults. Should I really have written “Me, Beyoncé and the hideous hag”? Wouldn’t “Beyoncé, the hideous Hag and I” have been better? (At least I hadn’t forgotten the comma that saves Beyoncé from being a hideous hag. Or does it?) Welcome to the mess I call my brain.

Grammar police

An example of what MM is capable of doing. (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

As I have already mentioned on this blog, I am a fully paid-up member of the Punctuation Police. I come out in spots and start muttering obscenities under my breath when I spot a greengrocer’s apostrophe. I tell shop owners in hushed tones that there is a spelling mistake “just here“, whilst my children burn up with embarrassment – they don’t understand that a spelling mistake is as embarrassing as having a bogey hanging out of your nostril. So when I find a mistake in my own writing, I chew off my own arms in despair.

The grammar guides were formal: “I” is used for a subject, and “ME” for an object. So why did my instinct say “ME”? Before my parents threw out the telly, the first BBC educational programme I used to watch as a child was called “You and Me“. Could the BBC have knowingly given their programme a name that was a grammatical minefield? Wouldn’t the Grammar Gestapo have screamed blue murder and burned their dictionaries in front of the BBC’s offices if it had been wrong?

My grammar paranoia turned into an internet hunt using the term “me and you”. It resulted in an impressive list of references to films, books and songs, including that great song, “Me and You and a Dog Named Blue“. I doubt it would have been a hit if he’d sung “You and I and a dog named Blue”. And what about Me and Mrs Jones? Would they still have had a “thing” going on if he’d waffled, “Mrs Jones and I are having a spiffing little fling” instead?

This set me off on a new track about the liberties that the music and film world take by breaking grammatical rules. One of these things is the extremely common double negative. There ain’t no getting rid of that dang double negative. No, siree.

When I switch on the radio and sashay my way around the kitchen, everything goes fine until that fateful moment when the singer spits out that double negative, and I spit my coffee over the hob. Puff Daddy drives me nuts with his eyebrow-raising title “Can’t nobody hold me down“. Nor will I waste any time listening to Justin Timberlake whimpering “I ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no car…” in his song “The way I are”. (I’m sure there must be some deep, philosophical explanation for that conjugation of the verb “to be” apart from it maybe rhyming with “car”, but I ain’t got no time to look, as Justin would say). And last but not least… tadaaaah… our friend Beyoncé. Not only is she the “most beautiful mother in the world”, but she achieves an absolute best of four negatives in her song “Get me bodied”. (Whatever that means. I’ve heard of disembodied, but not bodied). “I ain’t worried, doing me tonight, a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody“. OK, we’ll take your word for it, Mrs B.

Beyonce Awesome Reaction

Beyoncé during her Olympic quadruple negative exploit (Photo credits: Giphy)

Yet modern-day singers are just continuing an age-old tradition – some of the best singers in history sang to us in double negatives. When Louis Armstrong warbled “I ain’t got nobody”, nobody got their grammar knickers in a twist about the fact that two negatives make a positive, so if he “didn’t have nobody”, he actually had somebody.

It’s too late for me. I’ve tried, tried and tried again, but when I hear Mick Jagger singing that he can’t get no satisfaction, I feel like washing his cavernous mouth out with soap and sending him to bed with a grammar book. If I’d been at Islington Green School when they asked the pupils to sing for Pink Floyd, I’m pretty sure that my mother would have tied me to a chair at home then hammered some sense into the authors with a heavy copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Imagine being a copy editor way back then and finding the lyrics of “Another Brick in the Wall” in your inbox. I would have needed a double dose of Xanax just to get over the opening line, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”. If Joe Bloggs had written these lyrics instead of Pink Floyd, his masterpiece of bad grammar would have been arrested and put in Pedant’s Prison on multiple charges of taking the English language in vain.

I’ve scratched my head a lot about this, and have decided that singers sacrifice good language use to achieve a familiar, “boy next-door who’s just fallen out of the pub and thrown up beside you on the pavement” style of speaking. So, snot fair. We bloggers ain’t got no right to artistic licence wiv grammar, but them singers duz.

I have gone back to my post and changed the title to something less worrying. I’m sure that Muphry’s Law will apply here, and someone will find at least one mistake somewhere in my diatribe about other people’s mistakes. So be it. A little humility ain’t never hurt nobody. Now I’m off for a little lie down – I ain’t got no energy left.

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MM’s Supermarket Showdown.

I wouldn’t like to be a supermarket cashier. It must be a boring job, day after day. But today, any compassion I had for cashiers disappeared in a puff of half-price supermarket smoke.

Bigfoot, Little My and I were at the “grown-up” supermarket, the one where you bump into people like Earth Daddy and the Dinkies (more about them here). We were on a mission for Perrier and shampoo. As carrying packs of water does nasty things to your fingers, I took a shopping trolley and wheeled it around the store.

We got our handful of items collected off the shelves in no time at all, and got to the tills to discover queues that were depressingly reminiscent of Heathrow’s immigration control. Then I saw it: the oasis of sanity, the spanking-new “scan your own” section. It was gleaming invitingly at the end of the store, its four pristine tills waiting patiently for customers to cheer up their lonely existence. We scooted over to it and started scanning our items with an enthusiastic Little My as chef d’orchestre. Each time she flashed the bar code in front of the optic sensor, she was rewarded with a loud and satisfying “bleep”. I felt warm inside to see how happy she was, and was wondering how we adults lose sight of these small thrills in life when my maternal nirvana was interrupted by a loud scream of horror.

An indignant voice shouted out, “Ah, NON, Madame!!!!!” I lifted my head from the depths of the shopping trolley to find out which poor Madame had committed a sin worthy of such vehement hostility. Had someone tried to leave the supermarket with a saucisson stuffed up each sleeve and a honeydew melon craftily hidden in each cup of a FF cup bra? Was Super Cashier about to save us from a terrorist who was on the point of stealing the day’s haul of money-off tokens?

Calamity Jane (album)

Remove the smile and imagine purple overalls, and you have the ardent defender of scan-your-own territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t have time to see much, as my field of vision was immediately blocked by a faceful of purple overalls with an official badge pinned over a heavy boob. A pair of hands firmly grabbed my pack of Perrier and launched it unceremoniously back into my trolley. “Madame” was none other than little old me, who had apparently just committed the most heinous sin of the shopper’s universe. Meet MM the criminal, aka Materfamilias la Maudite.

A pair of hostile blue eyes drilled into mine from below disapproving eyebrows. The hands settled at hip level, Calamity Jane-style. Her fingers were twitching, no doubt ready to whip a hand-held scanner from the depths of each pocket and code-bar me into submission if I moved a muscle. “NO TROLLEYS IN THIS AREA, Madame!” the purple lone-ranger yelled at me. “Take your shopping elsewhere! Honestly, some people….”

My children looked on anxiously as my infamous “ancient camel dung” expression slowly appeared on my face. The kids know that this bodes no good for the recipient of my wrath. I levelled with the prison-warder-come-cashier. “Oh, yeah? Says you and whose army?”

“Says Le Règlement, Madame. No trolleys here. It says so here”. She bristled with self-importance and pointed triumphantly at a drooping sheet of paper that was forlornly taped to a sweets display above our heads. Its corners were at half mast, clearly in mourning for the cardboard support that didn’t make it on the long journey from the administration office.

I smiled at her and informed her that the “notice” in question must have been taped there by the Green Giant – she could probably understand that even for a tall person such as MM, it was too high to see, let alone read. I savoured the sight of my vertically challenged aggressor looking up at the sign before she spat “No trolleys!” at me for the second time.

Bigfoot was remarkably elegant, telling Madame that we only had 14 items, and that the recently discovered notice gave an upper limit of 15. Madame said yes, but in a basket, not in a trolley.

English: Carrinho de supermercado adaptado par...

Shopping trolley complete with get-away vehicle for supermarket sinners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By this point, the mustard was really getting up my nose. Excuse the pun, but I was inches from going off my trolley. Forget Attila the Hun, this was Attila no Fun. She pulled her special badge out of her pocket, waved it ostentatiously across the screen as if it was a VIP pass to the backstage door at Cannes film festival, and stabbed evilly at “cancel” with a nail-bitten index finger.

“I thought this system had been put here to make shopping easier for customers, and for yourselves. Why do you have this rule, anyway?” I enquired. MM lethal humour was bristling on the end of my tongue, ready to be deployed.

She flared her nostrils like a silverback on crack, and bellowed: “Because it’s the rule! We don’t ask why! We obey the rules! That is all! No trolleys, Madame!” She had obviously  been promoted from the status of cashier to the vertiginous heights of Queen of the Scan-your-own Kingdom, yet didn’t feel any need to understand the rules that she enforced with so much breast-beating. She accepted the rules passively without questioning. She had been given power, and she was wielding it as coldly and methodically as Genghis Khan.

I took a deep breath. This conversation was going nowhere, fast. It was time to wrap up and go before the ice cream melted.  “Here’s a little advice for you, sweetheart: if you want to enforce a rule, it’s good to at least know why it exists. It’s healthy to question things – give it a try. Oh, and I’m sure that the little old lady who has to take a shopping trolley for three packs of water will be delighted when she keels over in a queue because you’re too small-minded to bend the rules you can’t explain. Have a good day”.

As a responsible, caring citizen, I felt it necessary to warn the (pleasant) cashier who took care of our shopping afterwards that there was a Rottweiler on the loose without a muzzle and wearing a shop uniform at the scan-your-own section. You can never be too careful: dogs aren’t allowed in supermarkets. It’s no doubt written somewhere in Le Règlement….

The Lost Sock Dimension.

Sock Prayer Flags.

Hanging out in the Lost Sock Dimension (Photo credit: knitting iris)

PF’s underwear drawer is the sock equivalent of Fagin’s den: it’s full of orphans. They are all black – this is not an indicator of racist sock management, it simply means that PF mainly wears black socks. Yet according to PF, all these socks are different. He is picky – he grouches as he pulls them on in the morning, saying, “This isn’t a pair, you know”. I look bleary-eyed at them from under the quilt and say, “Yes they are, they’re both black”. He insists that they don’t go together. “The elastic is different. Look!” or, “This one’s pure cotton, this one’s got lycra in it”. I’ve pulled my socks up since, but refuse to start obsessing about getting pairs to match. I have no desire to become an NCIS sock expert, spending hours inspecting the elastic inside the socks with a microscope in a bid to match their genetic blueprints.

Why do we have this unhealthy obsession with socks having to match, anyway? After all, nobody sees them half the time. Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place with happy, colourful feet? I dream of a new world where my bank manager would cross his legs to reveal bright red hearts on one ankle and blue and green stripes on the other without hot-footing it out of the room in embarrassment. Where I could have fun checking out the colours and patterns on businessmen’s socks on boring train journeys. Where people would say, “Hey, your left sock rocks!” rather than “Excuse me, your socks don’t go together.” But my sock utopia is not to be…. French sock society is sectarian, and a white sock and a black sock cannot pair up and go out together. A size five with a size nine will not foot the bill, either. People would talk. We need a below-the-knees revolution. Maybe we could sock it to the nation by staging a new West End theatre success called West Sock Story, telling the racy, stockings and suspenders tale of unrequited sock love in a heart-stopping underwear drawer debacle?

Anyway. Back to PF’s socks. I put the orphans together so that they don’t feel lonely, and leave them in the odd sock bag until their other half turns up. The odd sock bag is a sad home for Socktown singletons who lost their grip on their other half somewhere in the centrifugal vortex of the laundry cycle. Widowed socks are resigned to life as outcasts. The other sock never turns up, of course, and after a while I either throw the laundry basket orphans away or use them for cleaning. This is, of course, where Murphy’s Law swings into action. As the binmen disappear with the repudiated single socks, their bereaved other halves are promptly found weeping inconsolably in Little My’s knicker drawer, behind the tumble drier or under a bed, and are entrusted to the shoe-cleaning kit with all the appropriate rites, relegated from shoe-lining to shoe-shining.

Where do lost socks go, anyway? Do waylaid socks form a hallowed mystery club along with the remaining teaspoon at the bottom of the washing-up bowl and that missing woollen glove that suddenly and inexplicably turns up in the middle of summer? Where can they possibly get lost on their journey from Rugby-boy’s sweaty feet to the underwear drawer? Do they hide in the washing machine? Do cold-footed magpies pinch them from the washing line? The only logical explanation I can find is the existence of a sock equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. I have named this The Lost Sock Dimension, or LSD for short. Lost socks wail in this no-mans land as they yearn to be reunited with their other halves and rub heels in the reassuring, sweet-smelling haven of the odd socks bag.

So spare a thought for orphaned socks. Take two out of the bag today, put them on and take them out for a walk. In future, maybe socks should be sold in threes, instead of pairs. That way I could keep the spare one… in the odd sock bag.

I’ll leave you with this lovely animated film about lost socks by Austin Hillebrecht. Hope you enjoy it!

Why I will never be a Febreze Fairy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

PF knows that I am not the kind of woman who hits the Prozac if HMS Bogbrush doesn’t circumnavigate the toilet rim on a daily basis. He will arrive home tonight, and sigh in despair. As his forehead furrows, his eyebrows will lunge towards each other like two caterpillars that are hell-bent on copulating on the end of his nose. (OK, so caterpillars don’t copulate. But I bet they would if they could.)

He often enquires why I’m not houseproud. The only answer that comes to mind immediately is that if I was, he wouldn’t be able to draw hearts in the dust to declare his undying love for me. But there are other reasons why I don’t have “Purgo, ergo sum” tattooed on my forehead. So here is why I will never be a Febreze Fairy, in five easy points.

1)  I am not my mother-in-law.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire her. At my age, she was Martha Stewart with Sophia Loren’s dress sense. I’m not. She attained the paradoxical summits of immaculate fingernails and a spotless home. I won’t. I accidentally knock the shower faucet and drench myself when I clean the bath. She doesn’t. In short, we’re different. So now for the visualisation exercise, PF: 1) Compare me with your mother at my age. 2) Hit your head against the nearest wall. 3) Get over it.

2) The time invested is simply not worth the fleeting result.

I have carried out a detailed feasibility study of this cleaning lark, and I have to inform you that whatever the activity undertaken, all visible evidence disappears in the space of a few hours.

Let’s illustrate this with laundry – a time-waste tragedy in six acts. I have copied this reference document for you from MM’s “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (available from Prozac Publications):

Extract from "Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework" (Prozac Publications).

Extract from “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (Prozac Publications).

Conclusion: Anyone who gets a thrill out of a pile of clean laundry should immediately consult a therapist and enroll for sky-diving lessons.

3)  I want to share the fun.

There are exciting hidden realms in this house just waiting to be explored. The laundry basket and the washing machine are both impatient to get to know more members of my family. They also have a distant cousin called Washing Line who lives at the bottom of the garden – her relationship with me is so insular that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She would welcome a visit from you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my offspring that the dishwasher has not yet learned how to fill and empty itself. Here’s a helpful hint: the distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance from the table to the dishwasher (this domestic equation is often referred to as “Kitchen Pythagoras”). You guys should locate the toilet brush, too, or you will literally be up shit creek without a paddle if I ever I go under the wheels of a bus.

4) The looming danger of HWS:  “Hamster Wheel Syndrome”. 

Housework is both futile and ephemeral in this house. I can hear that clock ticking as I run around the wheel in the full knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow, the day after and the week after. Hoovering a carpet for the second time in ten minutes because the dog has baptised my initial efforts with the saliva-drenched burrs she chewed out off her fur is hardly my idea of a rewarding occupation.

5) Cleaning is asking for trouble.

Maybe we could call it “maternal Murphy’s law”: Cleaning Karma bites you on the bum every time you wriggle your fingers into those Marigold gloves. If you clean the windows, the sky darkens and it immediately rains cats and dogs. Just washed the floor? The cat will throw up on it. Cleaning the bathroom before Rugby-boy returns home from the pitch is about as optimistic as getting out the Wedgwood when King Kong pops round for a cuppa.

DIY is also a common culprit in this equation: please tick the guilt-trip box if you have a) sanded down a wall just after I dusted, or b) rinsed out a paint bucket in the bath I had scrubbed in a rare surge of enthusiasm five minutes earlier.The greatest paradox of cleaning is that it’s only noticed when it’s not been done. I tried doing it regularly for a while, but nobody noticed….. until I stopped doing it.

Someone clever once said something about a great woman being behind every successful man, but I don’t think that being a sharp shooter with the toilet duck was one of the criteria he had in mind. So this Febreze Fairy Failure is off to walk the dog in the sun. If you want to cast a few spells with my magic wand while I’m out, help yourself: it’s beside the toilet on the right.

IMG_9364

The Febreze Fairy popping out for some fresh air (artist: Rugby boy).

Lavatorial Lingo: The story of a woman who flipped her lid.

I flipped my lid about the family bathroom last night, and any hope for serious blogging today has gone down the pan, for lack of a better term. So today, dear readers, for your eyes only, here is the low-down on MM’s pet peeve. Get yourself a coffee now – this text started out as a small dose of tongue-in-cheek bog breviloquence, then grew into an extended version of verbal diarrhoea. Such is life when one blogs about bogs.

The evening had started off well. I had gone to bed and read a couple of chapters of an old novel from my student days, complete with the Purple Ronnie bookmark it contained back in 1988. It kind of sets the tone for this post.

My super Bottom Burp poem page marker.

My super Purple Ronnie Bottom Burp poem bookmark. An example of the sweetness and light typical of MM in her student days.

I put down the book, switched off the light and carefully laid my sinus-blocked head on the pillow. My gentle slide through Aunty Biotic’s drug-enhanced world into the arms of Morpheus was rudely interrupted by the audible mutterings of my night-time enemy, the evil “Mr B”. In the multiparous mother’s dictionary, “B” is for “Bladder”. Like the ferocious nocturnal predator known as “handus mannus” (found under the common name “the hand” in the female version of the dictionary), a bladder is, of course, masculine, like other things that bother women when they are dropping off to sleep. I ignored him. He pulled hard on the chain and rang a familiar bell in my brain, making me feel annoyingly like a servile Jeeves in a PG Wodehouse bad-bladder-boss-meets-brain scenario. And off we went for another of our futile little debates, that generally run as follows:

Mr B: “Hey! MM! You awake?”

Me: “No”.

Mr B: “You just answered. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, you are awake. I need to go.”

Me: “Bog off. The legs clocked off five minutes ago, and the brain shut down for the night two hours ago. Over and out.”

Mr B: “That’s tough, because I need to go, and I won’t let you sleep till it’s done”.

Me: “Liar. You went ten minutes ago. Put a plug in it, walnut”.

Mr B: ” Wake up and smell the coffee, honey; your pelvic floor has subsided faster than a home-made soufflé. Does 11kgs of babies mean anything to you? Girl, it’s been Armageddon down here since June 2002. And you’re the one who chose Bagels instead of Kegels after hurricane Rugby-boy blew through, remember? Wanna go.”

I heaved myself out of bed, and fumbled down the corridor in the dark – I never switch the lights on, because it wakes me up again and by the time I start dropping off, Mr B starts gushing forth with his demands again. So I dropped myself sighing on to what I thought was a toilet seat in the dark.. and fell an inch further on to cold china.

English: toilet seat up Deutsch: hochgeklappte...

Brr, yuck, yuck. Bog boot camp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no need to be Einstein to work out which gender had visited the loo before me. I have already ranted about this bog bugbear and other household task issues in this post. So here’s the deal, guys: a toilet has a seat. This rather charming definition of the word “seat” could help you understand what this strange contraption is used for: “something designed to support a person in a sitting position, as a chair, bench, or pew; a place on or in which one sits”. This dictionary definition got me thinking: I do like the idea of a pew. I quite fancy a whole new take on lavatorial lingo: meet the pee pew. Or what about a buttock bench, stool stall, poop parlour, cheek chair, or flatulence throne? The possibilities are endless.

I digress. Whatever you choose to call it, a seat is for sitting on. It is not much use to anyone if it is folded up at right angles in a vertical position. Particularly in the dark. Boys, if we girls put the sofa upside down every evening just before you appeared with your beer and the tv remote, you’d howl. So put yourselves in our position and imagine jarring your previously warmed, Mr Men pyjama-unwrapped behind on cold china and not the gentle NASA-style docking you had expected with a room-temperature plastic seat. Then realise as your stomach flops over with disgust that the person before you had probably peed from a respectable height whilst inspecting his shoes or contemplating the ceiling. Sorry guys, but here you have proof of the pud: you cannot do several things at once.

Sitting in the dark, I wondered whether James Bond aimed as precisely once he was behind the toilet door. As special force material rippling with virile instinct and the eye of the tiger, do the super heroes of the male urinary universe whistle and stare gormlessly at the ceiling as they point Percy at the porcelain? Or do they delect in the thrills and spills of dropping a ball of toilet paper in the pan and aiming at their unsuspecting victim with sniper precision for toilet time target practice? (Are soldier household toilets easier to clean than their civilian counterparts? Answers on a postcard, please, bloggers.)

Target (1952 film)

Tim’s wife gives the other side of the story in Closer magazine: “He may have been a sharp shooter on the field, but certainly not in the bathroom.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I can see from my resident brood of men is that a toilet seat is only used when they have longer-lasting duties to attend to (in mother talk, we’d crudely comment that for some dads, it’s the only occasion on which they can claim that they have dropped the kids off at the pool). We always know when you have been there, because the seat is strangely…. down. It is also horribly warm, and the floor is littered with uninteresting reading material such as the DIY shop catalogue or “A guide to snakes”, thus giving away the identity of the person who has – once again – forgotten to walk the toilet brush whilst they were there.

I was mistaken to think that this would all pan out eventually. I have tried to go with the flow, rather than flushing with rage at the idea that you are deliberately yanking my chain. You have brushed off my pleas, guys, even if I do admit that you grudgingly tried to pander to my wishes a few times. But your efforts were sadly no more than flashes in the pan.

So I will no longer keep a lid on my frustration. I have decided on action: a shit, oops, sit-in. Mr B will be delighted to learn that he and I will be occupying the pee pew all day tomorrow in a “pee-ceful” protest against the perils of the open loo seat. I will take my book and my Purple Ronnie page marker with me. And even if the Bog Brigade sniff me out, I won’t be out until tomorrow evening, when I’ve finished my book and got the protest badge of the loo seat imprinted on my buttocks.