Beware the Grammar Slammer

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Here’s a frightening thought – grammar is a window into your soul. It’s not what you say as much as how you say it. And it’s not only what you utter, but what you type into your computer. Yikes!

After reviewing the patterns of politicians, court witnesses and bloggers, linguistic experts can identify a person’s sex and age by the words they choose. Your choice of words is revealed by the pronouns, articles and prepositions you use as well as how you end your sentences because it’s oh-so tempting to end on “to.”

Apparently liars don’t throw around the “I” word. And they’re equally stingy with “but,” “without” and “except.” Those words make the lie more difficult to keep straight, according to linguists.

The analysis extended to the wacky world of dating. After studying 1,600 personal ads on a dating website, some definite trends have surfaced. Turns out women use the words “no” and “never” the most. My husband Paul heartily agrees with that summation.

“Honey, wanna buy a [fill in any type of expensive watercraft/tool/ toy]?” he’ll ask with childlike innocence.

“No, not now.”

“When?”

“How ‘bout never.”

Back to dating. Gay men use long words in their ads. Lesbians tend to use shorter words and write the shortest ads. Straight men use long sentences and swear more often. No wonder their sentences are longer – those expletives take up space. Based on the study’s 80% accuracy rate, this is useful info if you’re looking for love through the personals, unless you’re lying about yourself or your sexual orientation.

One of my friends opted for online dating and is now married to the man she met through the web. Since she had success, she sent me her Woman’s Dictionary for Personal Ads:

  • attractive = pathological liar
  • 40ish = 49
  • easygoing = desperate
  • contagious smile = does a lot of pills
  • New Age = body hair issues
  • sociable = loud and obnoxious
  • fit = flat chested
  • hot-blooded = sloppy drunk
  • needs soul mate = stalker

Obviously this dictionary is more about reading between the lines than analyzing the actual words.

Phew, I’m getting tired, and a little depressed by all of this revealing analysis. Soon I’ll be afraid to write anything for fear of being confused with a liar or a politician. Wait, that didn’t come out as intended . . . or did it?

I’d better go and carefully dangle a few participles before I get into serious trouble.

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Audio story music
“ERSATZ BOSSA”
by John Deley and the 41 Players.

Hardening of the Articles

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The English language gets pretty much taken for granted until I hear the word “sativate” used twice within thirty seconds.

“When he walked through the chocolate factory he sativated. The smell of all that chocolate had him sativating.” This from a fifty-year-old businesswoman, one responsible for writing reports and signing contracts. She went on to say that her arc-hilles heel was sore and that the doctor was “pacific in his instructions for me to stay off my feet.” Perhaps I should have corrected her but I figured she’s managed to survive this long mispronouncing ordinary words, and her mangling of the language intrigued me.

Days later I phoned an old friend in the prairies, one I hadn’t spoken to for years. Her first words were, “I can’t believe you called, I was just axing Kerry about you.”

I can live with all of this, experiencing little more than an involuntary grimace when it’s from an adult with English as a first language. But if you’re within punching range, don’t even think about using a double negative.

While I’m no Harvard grad, I did stay awake long enough to learn the fundamentals of grammar, and at least a modicum of pronunciation. If I’m lucky, a well-balanced diet of reading should stave off any “hardening of the articles.”

But language confusion is forgivable in the young, even comical. Take my cousin who argued with her grade seven teacher that plunish indeed was a word. “‘He was plunished for his crime and went to jail.’ What’s wrong with that?”

And then there’s yours truly. I spent all of grade six blanching every time the teacher announced an administration day. Funny, I scanned the room but nobody flinched. I’d recently begun to “administrate” along with most of my female classmates, and was surprised when none of them reacted to such a personal word.

Correction, I must have snoozed through a few of my English classes because I still avoid the mention of prostrate and prostate in conversation. And when I write, all of my characters stand, recline, or stretch out across the couch because I never remember the simple rules for lay and lie. (Nor, for that matter, would you find them prostrate/prostate.)

I have to go now. Paul wants me to come grocery shopping with him.

“We’ve never got nothing to eat in this house,” he yells from the kitchen, making the skin on my neck ripple. But I don’t mind leaving my keyboard, because just the thought of those candy aisles makes me sativate.

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Audio story music
“Cancun”
by Topher Mohr and Alex Alena