A Thursday night.  The boys finally in bed, after the fateful coffee-table-removal incident.  8:07 finds me unloading the dishwasher, having finished looking up “concussion – signs and symptoms” on the web.  My cell rings, and I know it is my husband, calling to check in before the last few hours of his work day.

            Except it is not.  The name that comes up on my phone is the only other person I always answer for.  I pick up the phone and skip over the formalities.  “I have moved the coffee table onto the balcony.”

            “Oh, no!” she says.  “What happened?”

            “Zachary gets his brother all riled up, then can’t understand why he gets hurt or Benjamin bites him.  If that table is going to keep attacking Zach, it will need to stay outside.”  She laughs.  “What’s up?” I ask.

            “I know it’s probably a bad time.  I know you’re probably putting the boys to bed.”

            “Nope.  Boys are in bed, and Zach is already asleep, now that I have determined he has no signs of a concussion.”

            “Oh, then good.  Can I ask you a grammatical question?”  This, you must understand, is mostly why people call me.  I taught high school for three years, college for four.  I have three advanced degrees in things like education and English.  And I read a lot.  Actually, I used to read a lot.  Now I wipe poopy bottoms a lot and read on alternate Tuesdays when the moon is full.  People seem to trust me when it comes to grammar.

            “Sure.  In fact, there is nothing I would like better tonight.”  That may sound weird, but grammar makes me happy.  It is my comfort zone.  I know the answers here, and I can assert a certain order on the world that is pretty absent from the rest of life.  After a tough day, straightening out someone’s sentences is oddly relaxing.

            She is editing a document on U.S. torture methods at certain detention centers that will remain nameless so that this blog does not come up on someone’s search.  She wanted to know whether the quotes in which the prisoners quoted the guards needed double and single quotes if there were no actual words of the prisoners included in the quote.  In other words, if you are quoting a prisoner quoting a guard, but the guard’s quote is the only one included, do you still need single quotes?

            She read me a quote as an example, and, knowing me, she chose one of the milder ones.  “I’ll answer your question,” I responded.  “But please don’t read me any more quotes from the report.”

            As usual, her grammatical instincts were on target, and the single quotes were jettisoned.  Unfortunately, someone had been pushing her to use single and double quotes, insisting that she would know this if she were familiar with a style guide.  “Well,” I responded, “I am familiar with several style guides, and I can tell you that grammar tries to be streamlined whenever possible.”

            We chatted for a few more minutes, talking about a bridal shower she would be attending that weekend, and then we hung up the phone.  She returned to her report detailing the ways my government acts in my name to torture detainees.  I settled in to peanut butter ice cream and some blog reading to recover from the coffee table catastrophe.  No one sends me reports of international importance to edit; no one asks me to monitor elections; nothing I do gets dictatorial regimes to accept aid for their dying populace after a natural disaster.  I am the girl who knows about apostrophes and never misuses the semi-colon.

            Another day when my total contribution to the planet involved keeping my children alive, some carbon emissions, and the elimination of a couple of quotation marks.

19 responses to “Expertise

  1. Oh no! You are a grammatical genius? Now I’m scared to have you read my blog. Eek! It must drive you absolutely nuts to read people’s (mine) blogs sometimes.

  2. peanut butter ice cream? yum dude, sign me up.

  3. ooh. i can just see the two of us, dishing about the latest grammar controversies.

    me too, me too, friend.

    but you knew that.

  4. I bet you’re on someone’s list right now. I’m pretty sure just by living on the edge of China I’m on a list, and you’ve commented on my page AND mentioned the T-word – you are totally on a list.

  5. Remove: grammatical errors (b/c I can’t spell)
    Add: Did not kill my youngest, did not loose “it” and that’s pretty much sums up my life.

  6. Love you’re blog, just found today via a comment you left for our good ol’ Aunt Becky, doesn’t she rule?

    I agree with another commenter , you are probably on a no-fly list now, crazy freaken world isn’t it?

  7. it’s one day. you probably have “credits” from before, and you’ll have another 18,000 or so to work with.

    …with which to work.

  8. I recently babysat my friend’s two boys and I was so freaking pleased with myself for feeding them and putting them to bed – it was harder than any work day I’ve ever had. So I think you should be celebrating yourself for your day – I literally couldn’t believe how hard it was to make mac and cheese with two kids needing me.

  9. Words, I like…grammar, not so much. This must explain my overuse use of ellipses on my blog 🙂

    Sometimes, my most important job each day is keeping my children alive.

  10. Those are three very important jobs. In my other life, I would be one of those people who spends her time traveling the country and correcting the spelling and punctuation on signs.

  11. I get calls quite often asking about various medical ailments. I find it’s nice to put my nursing experience to some use.

  12. Oh my . . .I am a grammatical nightmare.

    (But you probably already know this.)

    Please stop reading my blog.

    Like, immediately! 🙂

  13. You’re forgetting your contribution here, and it isn’t small, my friend.

    (And do I ever believe in averaging out one’s accomplishments over the days. I’m pretty sure I heard something about a book and an agent, so you should just add a bit of that success to the sum of every day. Round up. Always round up.)

  14. it’s odd to tally oneself up this way…discomfiting and yet comforting to find that you know what you’re good at, at least.

    my friends call with grammar questions too.

  15. I am obsessed about the rampant misuse of apostrophes these days. It makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Just add an -s or -es, folks, to make something plural. PLEASE!

    Don’t get me started on misspelled names of companies/stories to be ‘cute,’ (ie. Kim’s Korner). It’s still alliteration when you spell the words correctly.

    OK, I am a grammar geek, too. However, people don’t call me for grammatical advice so my contribution list to the world these days is shorter than yours.

  16. i am completely useless with commas. next time i’ll know where to go.

  17. Ah, but keeping those children alive and cheerful is every bit as vital as getting the wording right on a document, yes? I’m looking at my own scoring system here and, yes indeed, I can see that you’ve come in right at the top of the achievement level 🙂 Oh and did you know, the words grammar and glamour derive from the same root? So grammar really is the style of language, its glossy elegance. I always rather like that!

  18. Can I have your phone number? I need a grammatical genius in my life.

  19. She Who Will Remain Nameless

    have fun, e. happy trails….