Home' Teacher : Jan-Feb 2011 Contents outside the square 69
I recently broke up with a girlfriend
because she misused an apostrophe.
Yes, I know it’s not a capital offence
to write two bottle’s of wine in
an email, but this minor gram-
matical blunder i rked me just
enough to pull out of that
night’s barbecue. Some rela-
tionships break down because
one partner is too possessive;
ours ended because the two
bottles were not.
Obviously this was not the
only slip-up that my ex- girl-
friend – let’s call her Je’s’sica –
made duri ng our brief relation-
ship, but The bottles incident, as
I now call it, was the straw that
broke the camel’s back.
There was a your/you’re epi-
sode in a love letter that left
me loveless, there were double
negatives cra mmed into conver-
sations that turned me right off,
and there were countless text
messages strew n with errors that,
in hindsight, were probably writ-
ten deliberately to wind me up.
Basically, the relationship was
destined to fail because I care
about gra mma r and she, appar-
ently, CUDNT CARELESS.
I didn’t care so much when I
was a teenager. Growing up in
a coal-mining community in the
north of England, it was difficult
enough to find a girl who could
speak in full sentences, let alone
in gra mmatically correct ones. I
took what I could get, and this
often meant me putting up with
clauses enclosed by like and
intit? in the hope of copping a
feel behind the bus shelter. In
those days, the most desirable
quality in a girl was not her
grasp of grammar; it was her willingness to
go behind bus shelters.
But then came university in the south of
England where I was surrounded by young
women who could construct sentences
without fillers. They all spoke properly, like
BBC newsreaders, and they all mocked my
Northern knack of truncating the to and
omitting the definite article in sentences
about me going t’ pub. Suddenly it was my
grammar that was under the spotlight, and
hoped to attract such sophisticates.
So I went t’ library and buried myself in
a big book of grammar with a penguin on
it, studying all the things that my middle
school English teacher would probably have
taught me had she not always been popping
out for fags duri ng lessons. I learned about
subjunctives, superlatives, conditionals and
participles. I studied predicates, preposi-
tions, pronouns and proper nouns. I learnt
so much about language that I was able to
crawl confidently from my study cocoon a nd
proudly unfold my grammatical wings. I
even learned how to create butterfly-related
metaphors, albeit clichéd ones.
But this new-found knowledge didn’t get
me laid. In fact, it probably had the oppo-
site effect. I became convinced that everyone
could benefit from my wisdom a nd I thought
nothing of pointing out where pretty girls had
wrongly used adjectives instead of adverbs.
I honestly thought I was helping; they genu-
inely thought I was a dickhead. We were both
right. But my chance of romance was slipping
faster than Australian school standards, and
I had to learn to keep my mouth more shut,
more often. My crusade had come to an end.
It seems that it is not possible to point out
grammatical gaffes and still expect to sleep
with the person who made them. Having
good gram mar is sexy, but the highlight-
ing of others’ mistakes is a passion killer,
a cold shower on a ny conversation. People
like to be told how smart they are, not that
for all intensive purposes is a malapropism.
No one likes to be told that fastly is not a
word; if they really cared, they would have
figured it out by now.
So what do language pedants like you and
me do if we want to be loved? And, yes, I’m
assuming you are a pedant since you’ve read
this far into the article; everyone else flicked
the page after missing the clever word play at
the end of the first paragraph. Do we just let
our partners get away with syntactical mur-
der? No, we do not. We explain to them that
our grammatical nitpicking is a symptom
of an obscure mental illness. We tell them
that gram matical mistakes bring on an xiety
attacks in us. We tell them that if they truly
loved us, they would stop using could of in
third conditional sentences. We do not drop
our standards; we help them to raise theirs.
Je’s’sica, however, had more problems
raising her standards than she did the hem
of her skirt, and it was with great regret
that I had to end it. Yes, she had great legs,
an angelic face, and at least two bottles of
wine, but these things were only going to
take her so far; a grammar geek like me
needs all the boxes ticked.
She sent me a text message after we broke
up, after I told her that it was me and not
her, after I lied about me not being ready for
another serious relationship. I TS SHAM E
COZ WE CUD OF BIN GUD 2GTHR.
X. We all know that I did the right thing. T
Mark Butler will be performing his brand
n ew co medy show Gra mmar Don’t Matter
on a First Date at the Adelaide Fringe
Festival from 19 February to 5 March
and the Melbourne International Comedy
Festival from 30 March to 24 April. He
takes no responsibility for any gram-
matical errors in this article, blaming the
editor of Teacher instead.
To WhAT ExTEnT DoES ouR GRASP oF GRAmmAR AFFECT ouR
ChAnCE oF RomAnCE? ComEDIAn mArk butler InVESTIGATES.
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