Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Grammar

Further Conversation about Grammar . . .

Our discussion about grammar has two previous posts on May 28th & May 30th… Grammar Conversation

You might be able to follow today’s part of the conversation without looking back at those two posts; but, I think you’ll gain a greater awareness of the breadth of opinion about grammar if you take a few minutes and scan them…

Forging ahead…

As is normal practice in our discussions, one comment on any given post’s topic can make the conversation continue; or, your comment might be, “Could we stop talking about __________ and discuss ____________ instead?” :-)

So, to continue, I’ll share portions of the last comment in this discussion ( from May 30th ) and also share my brief responses…

referencing the image in our last post

“In the photo at the top of this post, there’s a sentence ending with chess everyday. There’s no way those words, in that order, make sense grammatically. (Everyday is an adjective meaning ordinary or commonplace, something that happens every day. It’s possible to have everyday chess,but not chess everyday. It would have to be chess every day to work. Whoever graded that paper missed a blatant error. If teachers don’t know what’s correct, how can they teach their students? This is why we can’t have nice things… *sigh*”

I, personally, could accept “chess everyday”, if the sentence was poetic in nature; though, I can’t see what’s said before that particular set of words… Certainly seems to me that something like “My perfect life is simple—chess everyday.” Still, different folks opinions of the grammar in poetry differ far more than their opinions of “everyday” grammar…

quoting a sentence from a previous comment and making further comment

“’Latin no longer changes and I guess that is why its grammar does not either.’

“I would love to know what style guide/set of rules/whatever is being followed by writers who no longer use commas in compound sentences, for example. I’ve searched, and none of the usual style guides even say that such commas are optional, much less that they’re actually incorrect, yet I hear/read that from writers all the time. Where is this coming from?”

Personally, I had no problem understanding the quoted sentence…

And, I’m sure many folks could fruitfully contend that “style guides/sets of rules/ and whatevers” are an “option” for writers, as long as the intended meaning of the words is understood…

again, a previous comment is quoted and response given

“I’ve read (somewhere…) that grammar is ‘potentially’ present in the mind at birth—some feel there’s a proto-grammar that can ‘come forth’ in whatever language the child learns—mapping itself to the lay of the language-land…”

“According to anthropologists, it’s syntax that separates human communication from what all other animals do (yes, dogs certainly have communication, but they don’t have language, because their communication doesn’t have syntax), so I suppose you can say grammar is inherent in the human brain. Unfortunately, some people seem to want to reduce our communication to the level of mere calls (such as birds use — how appropriate) with only the most generalized meaning (‘This is scary’ or ‘Feed me’) and no added complexity of meaning from the order in which the calls are used (no syntax, etc.)”


Since I made the quoted comment ( and made it only to stimulate further conversation ), it appears it worked…

So, there we are—yet more divergence of opinion about the role and “texture” of grammar…

There is one last thing I can say with great confidence, since I’ve read widely enough to have experienced it and had endless discussions on the matter with a wonderful variety of folks…

There are a great number of esteemed writers who break most of the “canon” of grammar “rules”; yet, their readers seem to understand them quite well…


Are there unbreakable rules of grammar?

Is it impossible to understand certain writings because they don’t adhere to what experts claim is proper writing?

Is language deep and broad enough to be used in many radically different ways which delight a wide variety of people…?

Is there some other topic in the realms of Writing, Reading, and Publishing you’d rather discuss…?
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Our Conversation Moves through Grammar toward Learning and Magic . . .

We’ve been having a conversation on this blog for 5 of the last 16 days—every Monday and Wednesday… Blog Conversations

The last go-round went into the shades of meaning of two phrases and how they lend themselves to explaining different approaches to our experience of reading.

I ended up saying:

Reading, with concentration and empathy, will help you escape into books as well as escaping with books—you can live inside the book; and, you can internalize the book’s world to help shield you from
“The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

Which lead on to two comments, the first from Australia, the second from England (I’m over here in the U.S.A.…):

“The only grammar I learnt at school came from learning a foreign language. I learnt how to write by reading a lot and then under the care of a wonderful teacher, who, every day of my school life, asked for a paragraph of creative prose from each member of the class. We always wrote it in class and then read out what we had written. One day a student stood up and asked: ‘Why do you make us write such unhappy pieces?’ The teacher smiled and said: ‘I have never given you any topic to write about. You have written what you are feeling.’ It was true: we were confused adolescents. We escaped into our own little worlds and the rest of the class escaped into the small worlds we had created…we had never heard of transitive or intransitive :-)”

“I suppose I knew about transitive and intransitive when I did A level English but those phrases about books can be interpreted just as well without understanding grammar. After a while some readers just seem able to feel how to write, and read, without knowing too much grammar, which is why the new emphasis on grammar rules in Junior School English is a waste of time. By all means teach punctuation and discuss nouns, adjectives and adverbs, but what else do most people need? I agree with reciting tables (and poetry). Children will find that useful when, like me, they have forgotten most of the grammar they learned at school.”

So, before I add to the conversation proper, I’ll explain the title of this post—Our Conversation Moves through Grammar toward Learning, and Magic . . .

I got “learning” and “magic” from the etymology of Grammar:

“late 14c., ‘Latin grammar, rules of Latin’, from Old French gramaire ‘grammar; learning’, especially Latin and philology, also ‘(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo'”


Both of those comments (from Australia and England) came from accomplished authors…

The first noting that grammar was only an experience related to learning a foreign language and the second putting grammar in the closet of things not worth a tremendous amount of attention…

I’ve even heard, from an English teacher in college, that the grammar we use in English is taken directly from Latin—weird, eh?

Yet, the first commenter brought up a glowing remembrance of writing creative paragraphs (an implied use of grammar) and the second made reference to understanding the structure of language by Feel, through experiencing it, while forgetting any grammar learned…

I am certain there are folks who spent many hours of their lives studying grammar, and continue to think about it for hours, and use what they learned and pondered—building a written piece from its bare skeleton out—applying the flesh as a mere necessity to hold the bones…

And, there are a flock of folks who are somewhere between that last group and our two accomplished authors…

Then, there are the crowd who one might call language fundamentalists—blowing themselves up in public over rigid ideas of what words are for…

Sure, there are some who write things poorly—concatenations nearly impossible to read—swerving all over the highway of meaning…

And, finally, those who put words down because something Magic, deep inside, moves them to relate creations that can enspell us into other worlds…

So, from confused and sad adolescents, pouring out their hearts, paragraph after paragraph, to those who’ve “forgotten” their “grammar” yet still tell stories—moving through Grammar toward Learning and Magic…

By the way, my favorite definition of Magic, from the Oxford Dictionary of English is:

very effective in producing the desired results

I’m sure I’ll eventually move away from so much etymologizing…

Still, once again, we’ve had some sort of “conversation” here…

And, if you feel like adding your thoughts and/or feelings to it, do, please, leave a comment :-)
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What’s Wrong with #Selfpublishing ?

Three years ago I wrote what I consider my most important post; and, that’s most important out of 1,400-some posts… 

It’s called, What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?

One of the main points in the post was how wrong some writers’ opinions can be when they only look at authors who’ve sold thousands or millions of books.

They seem to cling to what those authors have said about how to be a “success”—they usually find no success

Naturally, “success” can come in many colors and knowing that the book trade these days is in rapid and confusing transformation can lead some writers to quit and others to redefine what “success” really means

Part of my point in today’s post depends on what the differences are between Self-publishing and Traditional publishing <— those links will show you posts I’ve written about these seemingly contradictory methods of publishing (This post will show up in those links since I’ll be tagging it with both terms :-).

So, I’ll now introduce you to the author Ros Barber.

She had an article in The Guardian this month called For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way.

For me, that title is a little ball of mystery and contradiction

I found out that The Guardian wrote that title because she wrote a blog post—“You” = “One” = “Me”—that tries to excuse her from what she wrote in the article.

The blog post was a big ball of mystery with a different blend of contradictions

I’ll share some excerpts from her Guardian article, as well as my opinions.

Under the topic heading, “You have to forget writing for a living”, she says, in part:

“If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living….if your passion is creating worlds and characters, telling great stories, and/or revelling in language, you might want to aim for traditional publication.”

I must mention her blog post about The Guardian article to let you share in some of the mystery of how this author expresses herself.

She got quite a bit of negative feedback from The Guardian article

In the blog post, she says her biggest mistake was using “you” as an “indefinite pronoun” since she didn’t want the article to be full of the word “I” and that “one” was “too posh”, etc….

In spite of what the received “wisdom” of Grammar might say, if “you” read the words, “If you self-publish your book”, do you think the writer is talking about themselves or about “You”?

And, there are plenty of ways to let folks know about a self-published book without intensive “marketing”—just one being to put it on Wattpad in serialized segments and interact with folks a bit—it doesn’t, by any means, have to take more time promoting a book than writing more of them.

And, the second half of that first excerpt is Way out there

Is it absolutely impossible to create worlds and characters, tell great stories, and/or revel in language in a self-published book?

Is to “aim for traditional publishing” going to magically make a writer create worlds and characters, tell great stories, and/or revel in language??

Let me excerpt only her other topic headings (so I don’t have to become entwined in her mysterious manner of justification) and comment a bit on each:

“Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool”

Now, if I could have read her blog post before I read her Guardian article, I would have known that she meant she had acted like a fool

Simple little logic question here:

Because she acted like a fool in her self-publishing adventures (or, because she feels she would act like a fool—it’s hard to know since she has self-published but she claimed in the blog post that “you” means her, so why does she show someone else’s “foolish” twitter behavior?)

Sorry, have to start over since I tried too hard in that last sentence to be fair to an author who says one thing but certainly appears to mean another

This is the logic question: If someone who’s self-published has acted like a fool in their promotion efforts, does that mean everyone who self-publishes will act like a fool?

And, let me try to be yet more fair with this logic question (since she claims “you” means her): If Ros Barber acted like a fool about self-publishing, does that mean most folks will?

Next topic heading:

“Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego”

“Gatekeepers” is a word for various people in the Traditional publishing industry; but, I’m wearing myself out trying to be fair to this author, so I’ll just ask you to read my past post, Are Readers Going To Be The New Gatekeepers?

Next topic heading:

“Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship. Serving your apprenticeship is important”

“Your apprenticeship” in that heading refers to writing a number of books and having them turned down by traditional publishers.

What’s to stop a person from writing a whole bunch of books, self-publishing them, finding out that each time they published their books were a bit better?

And, if they’re worried that publishing a string of “bad” books might harm their reception when they’ve reached a point in their personal apprenticeship where they have a fairly decent book to offer, they can just self-publish to a select audience (Wattpad come to mind again…) until they feel they can hit the major self-publishing channels.

Why not learn how to interact with an audience of readers as you improve your work instead of waiting for the opinion of one traditional publisher to shine on your effort with God-like grace?

Next heading:

“You can forget Hay festival and the Booker”

“Hay” and “Booker” are the award programs that seem to me like riding a merry-go-round and waiting for someone who might happen to walk past throw a gold ring at you

Next heading:

“You risk looking like an amateur”

If I tried to rationally deal with what she says in this section, I’d need a vacation in Australia to recuperate

This section tries to make people believe that to “look like” a “professional” author you must entrust the editing, cover, marketing, and publicists to a traditional publisher.

And, the magic belief that “proves” her point is that it will cost a fortune to do all that as a self-published author.

Do I really need to explain that, as self-publishing has gained market-share, entrepreneurs in all those areas have devised relatively low-cost ways to accomplish all those tasks?

In fact, because I’ve been researching and writing about the book world for the last five years, I’m sure there are more options for editing, cover production, marketing, etc. than ever before and they will only increase—when a market is expanding, people rush to take advantage of it (naturally, one must use common sense in judging the trustworthiness of people—I won’t mention the lack of trust many authors have from their experience with traditional publishers—oops, Damn!, I mentioned it…)

“70% of nothing is nothing”

Here she’s referring to a very common royalty percentage offered to self-published authors.

She’s also expressing her opinion of the odds of selling scads of self-published books.

As an argument for never self-publishing and entrusting your writing career to traditional publishers, that heading takes no account of the sales histories of most traditionally published authors (Please read this particular post…).

And, please, also, don’t forget the title of this author’s Guardian post: “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way”.

And, even though in the blog post about the Guardian article she says The Guardian wrote the title, I feel the article (along with the blog post) more than justifies what the title claims

I usually encourage folks to read the complete article I’m reporting on

If you can stand peculiar, one-sided “logic”, go ahead and read Barber’s article; but, also, to be fair to her, read the blog post she wrote after the article appeared

I’ve said it before and I stand up and shout it now:

Words are slippery critters; and, sentences are slipperier—God save us from paragraphs and longer written works!

You do know I’m “somewhat” kidding, right…?
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Which Is More Important, The Art of Writing or Its Craft?

I’ve written many times about all the bad advice for writers that’s out there… 

I’ve also written about some of the vast confusions about the purpose of writing.

But, when it comes to the Art of writing, a bit of Craft goes a long way.

And, learning the Craft of writing is more bearable if one is devoted to its Art.

Some might even say that the Art is constructed from the Craft.

And, naturally, there are those who don’t have time for either

Back in 2012, I wrote two posts about diagramming sentences (something I found intriguing and well worth learning back in my pre-college days):

Diagramming Sentences ~ A Lost Art?

What’s The “Best” Way To Learn “Proper” Grammar?

The post at the first link has some fascinating comments from the readers

But, in case you’ve never heard of this tool of the craft of writing (and, didn’t take that link up there), let me show you the diagram of the first sentence of George Orwell’s 1984 :


Some folks might see that as completely confusing.

Some might say, as one of the commenters I mentioned did, “diagrams are such visual word art, a bit like the electric circuitry of language laid out on the page

Now, take a look at the diagrams for the first sentences from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice :

The Great Gatsby

Pride and Prejudice

Those three images are from an aesthetic project by the designers at Pop Chart Lab, and you can see 23 more famous first lines rendered as grammatical diagrams if you visit their post, A Diagrammatical Dissertation on Opening Lines of Notable Novels   ( plus, if you hurry, you might be able to grab {at the bottom of that last link} one of 500 signed prints of this work of Crafty Art :-)

Did you learn sentence diagramming in school?

Did you like it?

If you didn’t learn it, do you think it might be helpful?
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What’s Grammar Good For, Anyway?

I heard, many years ago, and have had it somewhat proven in the meantime, that the English grammar taught to us is actually Latin grammar.

I’m sure someone has written all this up nicely and I’m sure there are now books proclaiming to be Real English Grammar

I, honestly, don’t care.

As long as what I write is understood by most of the folks who read it, I’ll be happy with my knowledge of how words “should” go together.

I’ve learned what I know about wordsmithing by being a voracious reader—perhaps some of the authors of all those books knew their grammar

But, there are places where “proper” “grammar” might be called for:

— certain classes in certain schools

— a few resumes offered to select companies

— grammar blogs (only certain ones)

— various grammar books

Obviously, I’ve learned how to put words together—just ask my friends :-)

So, I suppose I use some sort of grammar

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