I was not a member of the Grammar Police in college. I think when I entered the English Department, I forgot to swing by the secretary and pick up my badge, and since the only weapons that were handed out with it were limp noodles and pool noodles, I didn’t bother correcting the mistake.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t see when a comma had been misplaced, and it wasn’t that it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t that I had never groaned like a gorilla and followed it up with an explanation like, “that semicolon is killing me.”
I simply calculated that as long as I understood what was being said, it didn’t matter. Grammar is a vehicle for communication, and there’s no need to correct your best friend’s double negative when you know exactly how emphatically they meant, “I don’t want no more stinking homework this weekend.” In fact, my general thought was, if I understood them adequately to immediately know the correct form of it, they had spoken well enough.
But that doesn’t stop me from getting a kick out of the panda that eats, shoots, and leaves (a performance that must be applauded do to his lack of thumbs and amazing fortitude in his stance against paying the restaurant bill). It doesn’t keep me from cringing (and grinning) when children write, “Let’s eat Grandma!” It doesn’t keep me from believing that split infinitives (outside of Star Trek’s splendid motto) sound ridiculous and that Oxford commas save everyone a lot of heartache.
And it doesn’t keep me from hearing the songs on the radio and sitting up straight when their accidental grammar turns their lyrics over, flips the turn tables from something inane and mundane to something that pulls at the mind.
Because it’s one thing for the sweet-voiced singer to plaintively point out that she had been there before, stood just there and watched him walk out the door, once twice, a thousand times before. And it’s another for the same notes to admit that she showed up, stood there, just there, despite all his best-dressed apologies, for the express purpose of watching him leave.
It’s a different story, packed inside a dozen other lines that swing on its strings, hung on a contracted phrase that leans the wrong way on its unsteady supports.
You wear your best apologies, but I was there to watch you leave…
And I’d rather have its wavering meaning, stuck there in the middle of a sweet nothing, sharpening it.