Friday, January 3, 2014

The Grouchy Grammarian by Thomas Parrish

I was rearranging books this morning (which means I was trying to cram the strays onto shelves and between bookends on tabletops) when I came across a copy of the only book I bought at the first Kentucky Book Fair I attended in 2002.

The book is The Grouchy Grammarian written by Thomas Parrish. It is subtitled A How-Not-To Guide to the 47 Most Common Mistakes in English Made by Journalists, Broadcasters, and Others Who Should Know Better.

I met Mr. Parrish at the Book Fair and he kindly inscribed my copy of his book. He is an author and editor and lives in Berea, Kentucky. 

The Grouchy Grammarian is Mr. Parrish's fictional friend who, depressed over the grammatical blunders and missteps he encounters daily in the media, encourages the examination of examples of such errors and voila! we have a book.

There are chapter headings such as: There - the Introducer; May and Might - Did They or Didn't They?; Floaters and Danglers; Whiches, Who's and Thats; Pairs - Some Trickier Than Others; and Between vs. Among.

And, it contains a extensive bibliography and helpful index.

I have dipped into and dawdled among this book's 172 pages over the years, but I think the time has come to sit down and read it straight through. A mini-grammar refresher. 

This is just the sort of book I enjoy reading. Not for everyone's taste, but I am the person who rereads Strunk and White's Elements of Style every year, so of course this book appeals to me. 

From the book jacket:
"No one is safe from the Grammarian's vigilant monitoring of the English language. From the New York Times to the New Yorker to network sports broadcasters, the Grammarian records various gaffes, careless errors, and basic grammatical mistakes made by those who should know better."

The moral of the tale: Sometimes we can learn from our own mistakes and sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others. 


  1. I probably make many grammatical errors myself. That said, sometimes finding the errors in the newspapers is almost more interesting than the news itself. Do newspaper offices have proofreaders any more? We all know that spell check does not catch everything and I don't always agree with some grammar check programs. Try checking a legal pleading with a generic grammar check program!! Useless.

    1. Joyce, did you have to diagram sentences in high school? I did and loved it but not sure it helped with my grammar. It just was fun! I don't think students do that in English classes any more.

      Newspapers, magazines and even book publishers seem to have gotten rid of copy editors and proofreaders. Economics, perhaps?

      Sometimes spell check can be helpful and other times it creates more errors than it corrects. I have never used a grammar check program but can imagine in the world of legalese it wouldn't be very helpful!

    2. I loved diagramming sentences but they weren't doing that any more by the time my kids were in school so certainly not now.

    3. We should start a movement to bring back diagramming!

  2. I love the nitty-gritty of language, too, and I know I would benefit from reading this book. It's so easy to get sloppy, and though I think rules should be broken sometimes, I also think you should know what the rule is before you break it! (And Elements of Style is a classic and worth multiple rereads!)

    1. Kathy, I certainly don't claim to be any sort of grammarian! I think I may have learned more by paying attention to good writing in good books than I did in English class. And like you, I think a refresher course can be a Good Thing.