Red Letter Days

By Lori Alexander posted 03-07-2017 14:31

As medical writers, we all edit. Even if “editor” isn’t in your job title, you edit at least your own work. And if you’re anything like me, you edit all the time—menus, school memos, commercial vehicles, billboards, and, sometimes, even your friends’ messages. We wordsmiths have lots to celebrate this week, with National Grammar Day on Saturday, March 4, and National Proofreading Day on Wednesday, March 8. Two holidays for grammar geeks within 1 week!

National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. National Proofreading Day was created 3 years later by Judy Beaver, a corporate trainer, as a way to honor her mother and her love of correcting people. (Our kind of woman!) The websites representing these national days suggest a variety of ways to observe these special days. For example, you can link to a site full of pictures of “cake wrecks”—cakes decorated with grammatical errors. These cakes provide evidence that a knowledge of basic grammar should be required before putting the icing tip on a piping bag.

Another fun way to celebrate is to watch “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Word Crimes video. AMWA has shown this music video at the New to AMWA session at the Medical Writing and Communication Conference, and it always draws great laughs and appreciation. If you haven’t watched this creative parody (set to the tune of “Blurred Lines”), don’t wait any longer. If you’ve already enjoyed it, it’s still a good way to celebrate our grammar-geek holidays.

The National Grammar Day and National Proofreading Day websites also offer an array of resources for us grammar geeks. My particular favorite—the one I am ordering immediately—is a book by two guys who took proofreading to a whole new level. Armed with Sharpies, Wite-Out, and other editing tools, Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson set out on a quest to correct errors displayed in grocery stores, museums, malls, restaurants, beaches, and other public places across the country. They documented their journey in The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time. Can you say “heroes”?

We all have dreams of similar quests—to take our red (or blue) pens and correct grammar, in the hopes of getting others to finally see the errors of their words. To get people to understand our grammatical pet peeves. I’m sure we all share some of the same pet peeves: it’s vs. its; they’re, their, and there; your vs. you’re; who vs. whom; and so on. The pet peeve that has risen to the top of my list is the use of “Google” as a verb. (“Google the restaurant for me, will you?”) This infraction may be relatively new with the advent of search engines, but it is analogous to the age-old error of using “Xerox” as a verb, regardless of the brand of photocopier you’re using. I was always taught to respect brand names, to substitute the generic noun for brand names such as Kleenex, Styrofoam, or Rollerblades, and if not, to at least use a capital letter to denote the brand name. And I was always told to never, ever use a brand name as a verb.

As Xerox did (and continues to do), Google has tried to control the conversation by at least stating that the brand name should be used only when that search engine is being used. In other words, if you use Bing to look up a term online, don’t say you “googled” the term. But use of the word “Google” as a verb has persisted, and the dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, the most authoritative dictionary of the English language, list “Google” as a verb. Dictionaries reflect usage, not necessarily grammatical accuracy, but that doesn’t convince most people, especially my friends who taunt me with “Google it” because they know just how much it annoys me. They tell me it’s a lost cause, everyone uses it as a verb, and I should just get over it.

But, being as grammatically driven as Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson, I can’t get over this grammatical pet peeve. I guess I won’t be celebrating National Get Over It Day on March 9.

What grammatical pet peeves are impossible for you to get over?



03-13-2017 09:06

"We came back from the meeting with key learnings." Learnings . . . really?

03-08-2017 15:52

I always notice when someone uses the word irregardless. It seems so uncouth, irrespective of the academic credentials following the person's name, and regardless of whether the offense occurs in speech, print, or pixels.

03-08-2017 09:53

The word "impactful" gives me the shivering shakes!