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.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

A Beginner’s Guide to Sod’s Law and Handbag Voodoos.

English: From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore...

One of the rare voodoos I do not have in my handbag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When kids turn up at the door to sell me raffle tickets, my eyes glaze over. I dutifully buy a ticket in the full knowledge that I will never win the basket of goodies, let alone the holiday in Ibiza with massages and breakfast in bed. (That sentence was ambiguous. You wouldn’t get the two simultaneously, of course. They never give prizes like that in PTA raffles.) I’ve also got used to the idea that as I scratch the free game card at the supermarket cash-out and read “LOST”, I will invariably hear Wonder Woman squeal with delight as she wins Prince Charming, a Mercedes-Benz and an all-expenses paid shopping trip to Milan at the next till down.

I don’t have any issues with that. After all, I do win more often than Wonder Woman in more incongruous stakes. Like the day two gypsies stole just one bag amidst thousands on the beach, leaving a one lucky young lady miles from home with no worldly possessions other than her bikini bottoms. As regular readers know, the winner was … me. Here are a few more examples of my wins in what I call “the reverse luck stakes” .

  • When a car travelling down the M27 hit the central reservation and flipped up in the air like a giant tiddly-wink before slowly tumbling out of the sky into oncoming traffic, its driver (or should I say “pilot”) probably glimpsed the determined face of a girl who was muttering obscenities as she floored the accelerator and willed her VW Beetle to get the hell out of his landing strip. That girl was me.
  • When I was taken to watch my first (and last) football match, I didn’t see any football. I witnessed the worst stadium-related tragedy in the history of British sport instead.
  • When our local budding arsonist decided that setting light to wheelie bins was no longer enough to satisfy what would could be described as a burning desire for flames, he gave in to temptation and set light to one of the hundreds of cars parked along our avenue. Technically speaking, the car wasn’t mine… it was on loan from my employer.
  • To crown it all, breaking news: PF is presently stuck on an island somewhere off the coast of Africa because the local petrol stations have gone on strike. No petrol, no boat. No boat, no airport. If the family silverback doesn’t manage to get on the plane home next week, I will end up corresponding with a disgruntled, long-haired, modern-day Robinson Crusoe dressed in zebu skin who has shacked up in the trunk of a baobab tree and is sharing bananas with the pet lemur on his shoulder.
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

PF calling MM from Baobab HQ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have drawn the conclusion that the slimmer the chances of misfortune are for others, the more likely the predicament becomes for me. These “reverse luck stakes” lead me to check the sky from time to time in case there is a block of frozen airline waste beelining through the stratosphere with my name on it. After all, if only five people have been hit by these urine-saturated meteorites over the last 40 years in the UK, that means that I run a pretty high chance of going down in family history as the girl who was clocked on the head by St Peter’s giant frozen kidney stone.

Sod’s law is intricately linked to another law of possibilities that I call the “handbag voodoo law”. Handbag voodoos are all the things you cart around in your bag that you never seem to need. This lorryload of crap seems to protect you from the wrath of the sod’s law gods, who vent their spleen on you as soon as you leave any of said “useless items” at home.

When my kids were small, I would chuck a spare change of clothes for them into my bottomless handbag. It would fester in the collection of biscuit crumbs, keys, supermarket receipts and biros for months on end until I finally emptied my bag and strode out of the door with my child, forgetting the change of clothes. This immediately sparked the demon on my child’s shoulder into action, and they would promptly either pee their pants, drop their drink down their fronts or throw up.

My mobile phone never rings until I forget it at home. I invariably return to snotty messages from school saying that my child has a temperature and that they couldn’t contact me. The “handbag voodoo” law applies to many other things: Aspirin. Tissues. Biros. Hair bands. Gloves. Elastoplast. Sunglasses. Hand cream. Screwdrivers… The list is endless, and yesterday’s missing handbag voodoo was the lip balm. It had knocked around in my bag until the lid fell off months ago and it ended up welded to my checkbook. So I made the mistake of chucking it away and not replacing it.

English: Gladrags and handbags! A giant handba...

A bag big enough to contain all necessary handbag voodoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to yesterday, when MM was kicking her heels on the beach with Smelly Dog for the day whilst Bigfoot jumped through hoops for the French military service. The Sod’s Law Gods inspected the contents of my handbag, got their heads together and handed things over to Zeus. The wind picked up, and sand and salt stung my face and dried out my lips. Within two hours, I felt as dried out and wrinkled as a sun-dried tomato and was licking my lips more often than Hugh Hefner at a lingerie show.

So when I got home, I ran to the bathroom, stuck my hand in the cupboard and pulled out the first lip balm I saw. I hastily slathered a huge, comforting layer of it all over my stinging, smarting lips, then hit the sack.

Now. Remember those reverse luck stakes? There is little chance of anyone being allergic to lip balm. Within this group, there is an infinitely small percentage of people who could physically react to a hypoallergenic, plant-based one. That person appears to be me. I woke up looking like a cross between Angelina Jolie and a Dunlop tyre, and have been yelling at Smelly Dog all day as I can no longer whistle.

Looking on the bright side of things, I won’t scare my husband, because he’s stuck under a baobab with the entire cast of “Madagascar”. Come to think of it, lip balm is a damn sight cheaper than Botox injections. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rub it on my wrinkles.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Ding dong, Jehovah calling….

"My grandmother and the doorstep deweller," drawn by the little MM, aged 4 (+40).

“My grandmother and the doorstep dweller,” drawn by the little MM, aged 4 (+40).

Nobody ever turns up on my doorstep to sell me anything, be it carpets, frozen food or tickets for the school raffle. Yet last weekend I was surprised to see a gentleman standing patiently outside my door. He was carefully groomed, and was dressed in a shirt, tie and suit. My visitor was dancing an impromptu Foxtrot in the amusing belief that he could avoid getting his smart black trousers covered in dog hair: Smelly Dog had achieved her usual epic guard dog fail, and was surgically attached to his leg, tail wagging and ball in mouth.

Confused, I looked behind him for the hearse, and then checked his pocket for Agent K’s magic sunglasses and zapper pen. (I’d love to have one of those. Just for one day – I’d start with my bank manager, then move on to the Élysée.)

As I reached for the door handle, my eye fell on the black leather satchel and I reached my final diagnosis: In the same way that Avon rings the doorbell with promises to renovate sagging facades with miracle cosmetics, I was opening the door to a door-to-door salesman of spiritual make-overs. This doorstep-dwelling species offers you salvation -trade in your tarnished, sinner’s soul over the doorstep and get a gleaming new stainless one with 50% extra heaven in return.

His blue eyes locked earnestly on to mine. I recognised with a sinking heart that very peculiar expression – a strange combination of a drug addict crossed with a Rottweiler that has just clapped eyes on a sirloin steak.

Now, MM is one of a long line of champions for getting shot of penance pedlars. My maternal Grandmother had pedigree status: when a bible-brandishing visitor announced that he was Jesus, she welcomed him with a booming “Come in! I’m Pontius Pilate”. So I really can’t help it – when I have a visitor intent on saving my soul, I get an irrepressible urge to grab a bottle of gin in one hand and a packet of Marlboro in the other, then jig up and down on the spot in my underwear singing songs from The Life of Brian. Irreverent and rude? No, not at all – anyone who turns up at my home expecting me to discuss my personal beliefs with a complete stranger must presume that I’ve got a very laid-back attitude to life.

The visitor pushed Smelly Dog away with the tip of a well polished shoe. “Hello! I just happened to be in your neighbourhood”. My eyebrows shot skywards. You have to try very hard to “happen” to be in my neighbourhood (the GPS says “go to the end of the Universe, turn left and left again”). Our building is run down and decrepit; the kind of place a well-meaning soul may mistakenly expect to find an ageing hermit with lots of money in need of company. (And yes, that sentence was deliberately ambiguous.)

The hand slipped down to the satchel and unsheathed its weapon. “I’ve brought you some reading,”he beamed, thrusting it towards me. It was of the pseudo biblical variety, with a good satanic twist to give readers a severe case of the collywobbles. I sighed. If I want to read something full of spelling mistakes and badly researched stories, I just have to buy a copy of the local newspaper.

I considered telling him I couldn’t read, then decided against it in case he had a copy of “Learn to read with Jehovah” tucked in his sock.

“That’s very kind of you, but I’ve got plenty to read”. My interlocutor stared back at me. The enthusiasm had waned. “But I’ve brought you hope!” he spluttered. “Oh, I’ve got bags of that inside too, thanks.”

Salt peanuts

Peanuts for a soothed and satisfied soul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Silence ensued. I sucked air through my teeth and tried to find that legendary cool that the French mistakenly think we Brits possess. Belief is a bit like your privates: it’s highly personal. So you don’t pull it out in public, even if you are proud of it, and you don’t ask anyone else to show you theirs, because it’s…. well….. private. What works for you may not work for me, even if you have the best intentions. Laughter and peanuts do the trick for me, but may not work for anyone else. So in the same way that I don’t hammer people’s doors down to force them to accept a handful of peanuts and a Peter Kay video and invite them to my next Peanut Addicts Anonymous meeting, I don’t expect them to impose their views on me.

So MM smiled her best “not missing you already” smile. “Well, thanks for your visit. Have a good day,” I said, and started closing the door. “Wait! Wait!” He jiggled up and down as Smelly Dog obligingly dribbled on his shoes. “Does anyone else live here?” His eyes darted along the façade of the building, and spotted a figure pulling his bike out of the garage. “Ah, I see someone. Wonderful! Good bye….” The black shoes crunched their way down the gravel, magazine primed and ready to sell hope to Gargamel. I suspected that the end was nigh.

Disclaimer. MMM (M.M’s Mum) says I should put something here to say that this is just my opinion. I (nearly) always do what my mummy says. So: “This is my opinion, and should be taken as such”. Voilà.