Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies

10 October 2006
7:00 AM

The unstated thesis of June Casagrande’s Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies is that two wrong do make a right. In 42 hyperactive chapters, Casagrande passes over some grammatical themes as she suggests how to deal with grammar sticklers. Along the way, she calls them “desperately uncool little word nerds,” blowhards, wankers, dorks, word pervs, “people who can’t get a date at all,” and the enemy. Her stated goal is to make the grammar snobs cry. In the most incomprehensibly hypocritical example of all, Casagrande says that the best way to deal with a ranting company memo—a manager is complaining about turning off the coffee pot—with a dangling participle is to “expose the VP for the dangling dork that he is.” Indeed, the pot and the kettle are both black, and Grammar Snobs leaves little doubt that the author herself is a closet meanie.

If talk of nerds, dorks, wankers, and blowhards conjures images of high school cliques in your mind, stick with that analogy. Grammar Snobs captures most of the worst of high school writing. It is excessively conversational. Paragraphs are riddled with “oh’s” and glib questions. Jokes that aren’t funny go on far too long. Chapter 41, for example, is a list of easily confused words—Casagrande suggests that the devil created English to befuddle people—periodically punctuated by “I am Satan!” The author also drags out explanations as long as possible, as if stretching to met some imaginary word count. An adequate summary of this book would be this: rules are not unbreakable, not everyone agrees on the rules, and you can look up things you don’t know. Yet despite all the writing, Casagrande misses an important distinction between grammar and usage. A number of her points have little to do with grammar: “10 days” and “ten days” are equally correct grammatically speaking; which you use is a matter of style and consistency.

There are occasional bright sports in this book. In a gently self-deprecating moment, Casagrande quotes Lynn Truss’s comma advice from Eats, Shoots & Leaves, “Don’t use commas like a stupid person,” and counters, “That’s well and good for her exclusive clique of so-smart readers, but about us stupid people?” Readers are likely to learn some usage tidbits. For example, you should write “till” instead of “‘til.” The highlights, however, are not enough to redeem this one. It may make me a meanie to say it, but save yourself $14 and pass on Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies.