Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A Feel for Grammar

I've never quite been able to explain where I get my 'voice' from when I write. I've also never been able to understand how someone else can't do what I do, because it seems so simple to me, just transfering the words that the voice in my head dictates onto paper or a computer screen or wherever.

Everyone at my office knows that they can come to me with almost any style or grammar question, and that I will have an opinion. I'm always being asked to proof other peoples' work. But I actually know very little about grammar. I couldn't diagram a sentence if you paid me, nor could I tell you what a subjunctive clause is without first looking it up.

Today, one of my colleagues came by to ask me a question about a sentence in a report she was looking over. I gave her a quick answer, and then she said, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too, but I couldn't say why."

"Oh, I can't say why, either," I replied. "I just know that it's that way because it feels right. And the other way? That just feels wrong."

And it's true. As I'm looking over my book, I'm finding certain changes that were made that literally, physically, feel wrong to me. I can't say what the problem is, but I will actually feel something twist in my throat just a little bit as I read an improperly worded sentence, almost as if I've had a sudden taste of something sour or bitter. I'm not saying I taste something bitter, but that my body makes the same sort of rejecting motions that it would if confronted with a bitter taste.

I also find that my entire body tenses when there's a typo coming up in the next couple of lines. It's as if my other senses catch the error before my eyes actually get to that spot, and they start to ready me so that I don't miss it. If I get that tense feeling and don't find a typo nearby, I will read the paragraph over a few more times. And probably 7 out of 10 times, there is indeed a problem there that I would have otherwise missed.

Between all that and the voice in my head that will let me know when something sounds wrong, I get by pretty well without much training in this sort of thing. And, so far, no one wants to medicate me when I talk about those voices, so I guess I'm ahead of the game.

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