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Dave Barry  On Grammar


Adjectives. What about 'em? People use too many of them. Generally in news writing, god. There's all this old writing advice, but verbs are better than adjectives. Things should happen rather than be described. All the clichés about writing always turn out to be true. Show me, don't tell me, and who cares, who's gonna read a sentence about, "He was very angry," when you could've read what he actually said or did that made the writer observe that. The writer obviously saw something to make him say that, to draw that conclusion, but rather than let the reader see it and draw the conclusion, the writer tells the reader, "Here's what I know, I'm a journalist." So there's a lot of terrible drudgery put out in the newspaper. I'm always amazed people read it, I guess that's why we have sports sections. There are days when I think we're just committed to making sure not a single American ever reads another newspaper again, the way we write for it.


I have a bunch of books but only because I write a column called "Ask Mr. Language Person" which is a parody of grammar columns. And I use it only so I can think of more things to make fun of. I, believe it or not, I really am pretty good at grammar. Because I started in journalism in the early '70s, but then in the middle, I quit and spent seven years traveling around the country teaching effective writing seminars. I was still writing a column then, but my real living was teaching effective writing to business people. And I've always looked very young. When I was doing this I looked like I was about 14. So here are these guys, chemists, engineers, who didn't really care about language particularly, but they were usually pretty smart, technical people. And in walks this 14-year-old person who's gonna spend a week telling them how to write. And they very much challenged me. Right away I had to establish that I really knew anything at all about writing. And so I got so many questions from Ph.D.s about grammar that I became obsessive about knowing grammar. And so by the time I got back into knowing journalism full time, I really, really knew how to diagram sentences and what gerunds were and what predicate nominatives were and subordinating conjunctions and I have found that to be very useful in a sense that I break rules all the time, but I feel that I can break them in a real knowledgeable, creative way. At least I try to.

I basically did five days stand-up routine about how to write, because that's how I've always related to people--through humor. And particularly in this case when they expected to be bored, and a lot of them are there against their will. The company told them you have to go learn how to write. So I worked a lot of humor into, and all my examples, I would write funny examples for them.

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