HOME PLACE - Righting a writer tip: Try a little love, dear


Oh, how wonderful - we're a week way from the annual day of love. And, given my life at the moment, who better to talk about hearts and lace and my man's handsome face?

Yep, I've got it bad.

After such a hard, black season of loss, most of you have stood with me to watch the rising of a new sun, one that radiates with the love story I am writing daily.

But not everyone, you'll see. Today we're going to tweak Valentine's Day a bit and talk about "Reader Love." Which, this week, has brought us a note from someone who signed it "Me."

A letter arrived on my desk recently, two days after I wrote about the first wedding cake tasting Camo Man and I attended. The envelope from Me bore no return address, which always makes me nervous - I've found folks who bear me no good will are loathe to tell from where they spew their toxin.

That has included people who would like to see me dead and those who offered comment on my heritage and disposition. There was one guy who told me my bangs looked like pubic hair when I dared to take a facetious jab at Martha Stewart. And that doesn't even touch the letters from folks who tell me their heart-wrenching story in one paragraph and accuse me of being too uncaring to check into things in the next paragraph.

Which, if I were inclined to take such action, they've given me no name to go on.

It amazes me who's willing to spend a stamp to give me a piece of their mind.

"Dear Sheila," this latest note from Me begins. "What's the deal here! Haven't you been writing for years? Isn't grammar a part of what you are supposed to be knowledgeable? Aren't you supposed to know the rules-especially if you are going to have your ‘stuff' published in our esteemed local paper?"

Me went on to castigate me for the second sentence in my last column: "More recently and in a more detailed manner than me, I mean."

She took objection to my use of the word "me," contending it should be "I."

She (given your curvy little signature I do suspect you're female, Me, if not necessarily a lady) raked me over the grammar coals, telling me to peruse the tomes here at the Union-Bulletin to absorb more education in the English language.

"Oh, please, do study it, memorize it, and don't insult the intelligence of your readers by ever erring in the disgusting grammar-usage again! Could you do that, please? Can I thank you in advance?

Thank you.

Sincerely, (signed) Me

A Daily U B Readist."

Me attached that first paragraph of the column on newsprint, just in case I couldn't figure things out on my own.

Isn't that just such a nice note? Here I was, giving readers a glimpse of the light filling up my previously-dark world and thinking they would like that. What the heck was I doing, not giving grammar my full attention?

I took the note to my Walla Walla Valley Weekly editor, who just happens to be a grammar cop. Grammar captain, actually. Which is what he is paid for, and one of the many ways he does his job that make me both frustrated and ever so grateful. Suffice to say, he does not take this stuff lightly.

And, despite working with reporters, this guy does not anger easily. When I saw steam come off his brow as he read Me's letter, I knew I was in good hands.

In no time at all, my editor had filled the page with a flurry of grammar and punctuation corrections of Me's missive. As well, he assured me - his eyebrows knotted more fiercely than I've witnessed - he had vetted that very sentence with authoritative sources, such as Rutgers University.

"I checked. It can go either way in that case," he said.

Not to mention, a column is a different animal than a news story. A columnist's style, or voice, tips the scale in these on-the-line cases. And since my column voice is nearly identical to my speaking voice, it's going to be informal. Every time, Me. The majority of my readers say it's what they like the most about reading my work.

So, yep, it's going to be "More recently and in a more detailed way than me, I mean." Every time.

The problem with the whole "than I vs. than me" issue, Editor Man tells me, via Rutgers, "is that in all but the most formal contexts, ‘than I' sounds stuffy, even unidiomatic. Most people, in most contexts, treat than as a preposition, and put all following pronouns in the objective case, whether the things being compared are subjects or objects. ‘He's taller than me' sounds more natural to most native English speakers.

"This isn't a recent development: people have been treating than as a preposition for centuries."

Indeed, the piece lists a number of big-name English and American authors - including Lord Byron's Letter of November of 1804 - doing just as I did with "me."

The author of the advice sums it up neatly: "So what should you do? I don't have a good answer, other than the most general advice possible - try to size up your audience, and figure out whether they're likely to be happier with the traditional or the familiar usage."

Audience ... that's you guys (by the way, Me, the ellipses in your nastygram was improper; you used four periods and left no space between it and the preceding and following words). And most of you seem like me - we appreciate and respect grammar, but we're not going to use it as a knife to try and slice up someone's happiness. Right?

Our newspaper policy says we let readers have the last word. And we do - readers who don't hide behind their own grammar mistakes with a limp alias. In my 15 years of writing for papers, I've had many, many folks take me to task for one thing or another. They write or they call me up and they - important fact coming - identify themselves. And then we either have a civil discourse or we don't. I often learn something. And they do, too.

It's part of what I love about this job, frankly, that back and forth I get to have with my audience. More than once I've ended up with a new, intelligent friend.

They have, too.

There is always the other option, of course. I love that you read my column, Me, if for no other reason than to get your ire up. But it's not mandatory. You can skip right over it and go on about looking for problems elsewhere. It will be OK, I promise. Can I thank you in advance?




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