Painful Contractions

A contraction ruined one day of my life this week. Or should I say the lack thereof. My husband, who shall go unnamed, is managing partner at one of New York’s best and most beloved restaurants from which on Tuesday he sent out an important Save the Date with the subject line, “YOUR INVITED.”

Our three-year-old son and I were racing out the door—happy, late—and his pronouncement about the error, which coincided with my cell phone buzzing with a text from my mom, “Is it too late for [let’s call him Thomas] to retract the email blast he just sent?” was instant killjoy. Isn’t that just like life? You’re skipping along feeling smart and productive and hopeful, and next thing you know you’re wondering if you married a genuine knuckle-dragging, bona fide eegit.

At Thomas’s expense I will admit the vitriol cyber-spewed at him in response to grammar a “fourth grader should have mastered” was damn near heartening. People DO care and they are sick of it—sick of its and it’s, there and their, then and than, your and you’re, affect and effect, too and to—forget about the murkier bear/bare and principal/principle—being selected much in the manner of pin the tail on the donkey. Or maybe it’s just that folks with a cell or two left from their schooldays like to take a break from full-time Facebooking and get on a high horse. Whatever the case may be, when it comes to grammar there is definitely no such thing as bad publicity.

Back to my husband. In addition to being good at his job and a damn good cook, among other virtues, the man is actually wonderful at the language arts. His “your” could happen to anyone, the modern muddled brain little better than an iPhone at editing the moment-by-moment flood of communications. I have first-rate lawyer and other highly educated friends with roots in the Rust Belt or Iron Range who still emit the occasional, “I would have went there.” At my last job as an editor of dramatic literature we published Toni Morrison’s name with three rs…on a book cover…and almost published Chekhov sans one h. This was after tons of smart people had scoured the documents for just such errors! Today I work in the beauty industry as a copywriter and, with all due respect, my colleagues are not exactly grammatical Titans. As our resident editor, I can hardly keep up. Empirically I have to conclude that even when the rules are known and understood, the less than nimble post-legal-drinking-age brain simply cannot reflexively see or hear that which wasn’t hardwired in early prime.

All my life my family and I have smugly tracked, shared and bemoaned grammatical snafus and the troglodytes behind them. My grandpa stuffs Christmas stockings with books like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and we find the topic genuinely hilarious. We still split our sides over the year one of my mom’s students proudly presented a letter opening “The New Year has came and went.” Yet this was the first time one of mine was the guilty target and that—apart from a few publishing scares—a moment of my familial bliss was terrorized by language, the news of The Your casting a pall over my rare calm sense that all was well and orderly in the world, or at least mine. A week later my husband’s colleagues are still ribbing him about his less than kingly English and it smarts. Grammar is an indication of education and breeding, and can become emotionalized for the self-made and cultured who have earned rather than inherited their refinements.

Typos, especially electronic ones, are ultimately forgettable and not going to break any bones. But before this incident fades into ether like so many before it, I felt inspired to record the fallout in my first post at Cassandra Communications—a blog I opened to reserve the domain but haven’t known quite what to do with.

In closing, I applaud my wonderful husband for his fearlessness, for achieving so much, for shaking off his failures and never looking back. I beg him to get a proofreader. And I raise my glass to a new generation of grammatically impassioned readers and thinkers who learn to get it write.


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