Jokes and Bad Writing

During the month of October, I send Halloween jokes on Twitter every morning and evening at  7:30. They are all family friendly jokes so I promise there are some real groaners in the bunch! Starting in the summer, I begin to scour the web for Halloween jokes. Sometimes they are too long or too risque for “family”. Those I save for my close friends.

I ran across one joke that was hysterical, but it was typical of bad writing. It was also too long to use for Twitter, so I’ll pass it along to everyone here. When you’re done laughing, I’ll explain why it exemplifies bad writing.

A vampire and a young teenage monster went to a Halloween party. The monster said to the vampire, “A ghoul just rolled her eyes at me. What should I do?” The wise vampire replied, “Be a gentleman and roll them back to her.”

In the writing biz, that’s known as wandering body parts. His eyes swept the room. His hand snaked her waist. Their eyes met and locked. Oh gross! Super gross! Please keep those eyes in the characters heads and do not let hands and fingers wander around on their own.

How is it prevented? Make certain both are in the same room. The number of times the heroine has moved to another room and left the hero behind only to have his arm or hand touch her… Way too numerous to count.  It’s a common mistake. And as for those eyes, try gaze instead. Their gazes locked. He scanned the room, looking for–. His gaze settled on the ancient artifact. You don’t want those eyeballs settling on that artifact!

Don’t count on an editor to find such mistakes.They  are often subtle and slide by even the best editors. Why? Because poor grammar has seeped into everyday language.  If a bunch of young mothers were chatting about their children and the one mother said, “Elle’s eyes would follow Daddy around the room from the time she could sit up. ”

No one would blink. We all know what she meant. So why is it bad to write it? Well, it just is. Somehow, we’re held to a higher standard when we write. Maybe it’s because paper and ink were expensive and there was little room for errors. Tradition has carried through to today.

Fortunately poor grammar can be used as a way of showing the differences in education levels between characters. But there are also these diehards out there ready to pounce if someone makes a grammar mistake, even if it’s on purpose. Those grammar Nazis don’t bother to even consider if it’s a spoken line. And I’m not going to get drawn into comma usage in this blog post. Just keep in mind that our language is constantly evolving.

Advertising executives have used poor grammar to grab our attention. Winston Winston Cigarette commercial with a catchy jingle. Circa approximately ...cigarettes commercials are famous for the line: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. The usage of like instead of as was jarring to the ears and therefore unforgettable. But it also meant that a new generation of people, after listening to that commercial for 18 years, grew up not knowing that like, being used in place of as, was poor grammar.  Thus giving us, like I said. Totally wrong use of the word like. (And probably most of you can’t remember ever hearing a cigarette commercial.)

When I was growing up, the word got was not considered a word. It was some awful slang. Today, I use got and I use it in my writing. (Forgive me, dear English teachers!) Today, it is accepted as a legitimate word and everyone uses it.  Proper grammar is deteriorating.  I’ve cringed when I’ve heard professors using poor grammar. Aren’t they, in general, supposed to he held to a higher standard of education? Apparently not.

Even our newspapers make horrible grammar mistakes. Yikes! How do we expect anyone to know what is considered good grammar when we are surrounded and bombarded with poor grammar? I actually sat in a college English grammar class where the professor tried to teach who and whom, but it had it backwards. I slipped out of the class and went to the department head. Why was a literature professor teaching grammar anyway? I’ve known high school students with better grammar skills. Was she a good literature instructor? She was great! But her English grammar skills were in the hopper!

Also look at the influx of foreigners into our country. (Let’s face it, we’re all boat people! My family was here before the Revolution. They didn’t fly here!) For those learning English, they have very little formal training in  English. Seriously, I can’t think of a single pocket in America where proper English is the standard.  I know I grew up in a pocket of educated people and my English teacher was determined to teach me proper English. I’m not sure if she failed or not. I swear to this day, she sits on my shoulder and tells me that she taught me to use better grammar. I’m certain if I ran this blog post though my editor she’d find two dozen things wrong with it!

But poor grammar, when we write, will cause confusing sentences and stuff that makes us say huh? So I’ll leave it with proper grammar makes our writing clear  to the r Or as my English teacher used to say, “Write what you mean!”

It wasn’t until I became a novelist that I understood what she was saying. I just wish I had paid more attention to her when I was young. I’m not sure what she saw in me back then, but she has stayed with me. Like the devil on my shoulder, she stabs me with her pitchfork occasionally.

OUCH! Okay, more than occasionally!


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