No grammar for you! Come back, one year!

In college, I had a secret.

Between 2 and 3am, people would tap quietly on my door.

I would open it, just a crack, looking carefully to see if anyone was watching before letting them in.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” they would say. They all looked the same. Red, glassy eyes. Hair sticking up as if it hadn’t been brushed in days. Mismatched clothes. In slippers or socks or bare feet. Papers clutched tightly in their hands. The stink of coffee and cigarette smoke wafting into my room with them.

And they all needed my help.

To edit their papers.

Because I am the Grammar Nazi.

I come by my Nazi-esque grammar habits honestly. I’m currently an English teacher. I spent two-and-a-half years as a journalism major, and was Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper. I was on Good Morning America about students using Instant Messenger and text message slang in English papers, and was quoted in the paperback edition of The World is Flat on the same subject.

But I think I would have been the Grammar Nazi even without these qualifications.

I blame my parents for this. My mother encouraged me to read as much as possible from an early age, and I devoured every book that I could get my hands on. (Although she will probably never let me live down the fact that when I was five I told her that I didn’t want to learn how to read because I didn’t want to be smart; I only wanted to be pretty.) And my father took advantage of my grammatical skills, by employing me to proofread everything that he wrote, starting when I was 12. 

It’s not easy being a Grammar Nazi, especially as a child. Improper grammar has always annoyed me to an inordinate degree. And it felt only natural to correct people who spoke incorrectly.

I therefore had no friends until I learned to stop correcting everyone’s grammar.

Eventually, I found ways to keep my mouth shut when people used improper grammar. Yes, I cringe when people use the word “impact” incorrectly (it’s a noun, not a verb. Get used to it!), but I no longer tell them that they are wrong. I think less of people who say “irregardless” (it’s not a word. I don’t care if dictionary.com says it is. It isn’t.), but I stay quiet.

Writing, however, is another story altogether.

Everyone blames the internet for their poor grammar.

“Oh, it’s just Facebook. I know the difference between you’re and your. Honest.”

That’s not the internet’s fault. That’s your fault. Because you’re lazy. (Note the proper use of “your” vs. “you’re” there? Learn it, live it, love it.)

Here’s what I don’t understand: do people not realize how ignorant they look when they make those mistakes? Because I’ll tell you this right now, it’s not cute. And it doesn’t matter how attractive you are; if you screw up the your/you’re situation, I’m never going to go out with you. Nor will any other self-respecting person who understands proper grammar.

Then there’s spelling. I’m not the world’s greatest speller. Close. But not quite. I cannot claim the title of the Spelling Nazi. My students like to laugh at me about this, because I can’t spell words out loud. If I can write the words down, I can spell almost anything. But I would be eliminated from the first round of a spelling bee. If a word is more than four letters long, I have to write it down to spell it. Luckily I’m a writer, not a professional spelling bee participant.

But internet programs HAVE SPELLCHECK. Firefox, for example, underlines words that I have mistyped. And if it had that little red squiggly line under it, I’m going to fix it. Because I’m not lazy when it comes to spelling.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t hold it against you if you are a poor speller. (I do hold it against you if you confuse their/there/they’re, you’re/your, it’s/its or anything else along those lines. And if you can’t figure out apostrophes, go back to second grade.) But don’t try to tell me that it’s the internet’s fault. It’s not. It’s your fault. Own up to it. Or else do something about it and stop being so lazy.

 I do have another confession to make: in speech (and occasionally in email and on Facebook), I sometimes say things conversationally that I know are wrong in formal English. And because I am the Grammar Nazi and I do that, I grant you the permission to do it too. I’m not a hypocrite about grammar. I say “anyways,” even though I know the word is “anyway.” I’ve been known to “sice” things, even though that is slang and not a real word. But conversational slang is very different from using the wrong word out of sheer laziness.

And it’s also okay to mess your grammar up for the sake of annoying people who haven’t learned to stop verbally correcting spoken grammar. I have a friend who insists that it’s only acceptable to say “I’m well,” not “I’m good,” when someone asks you how you are. (She’s wrong, but that’s another story. If the question, “how are you?” is not directly referring to the person’s health, but is a general inquiry into how his or her life is currently going, which is how the question is commonly intended, good is an acceptable answer. Trust me. I’m the Grammar Nazi.) So I always reply, “I’m good,” just to irritate her.

Because, as I have learned the hard way, no one likes a grammar corrector.

It’s spelled S-A-R-A. But it’s pronounced "Sara-no-H"

There are varying accounts of how I got my name depending on which of my parents you ask and what mood they’re in.

Officially, according to my mother, I was going to be named Rachel Lauren, which my Hebrew name still corresponds to, but when I was born, my dad pulled a fast one because he’d never liked that name. Of course, my mom said that she was so tired by then that she would have agreed to the name Porky Pig, so I should consider myself lucky that my dad’s sense of humor wasn’t more warped than it already is.

When pressed, she says that they had discussed the Sara Elizabeth option before I was born, and chose to leave the H off of Sara because it seemed too old fashioned with the H on it.

If you ask my dad, it’s because both Bob Dylan and Hall and Oates had songs featuring a girl named Sara without an H.

I also remember my dad telling me one time that the reason my brother and I both have four-letter names with two As in them is because he’s the world’s worst speller and this way he would be able to spell our names correctly.

While the latter probably isn’t true, the problem is that no one other than my dad has EVER been able to spell my name correctly.

I’m not quite sure what the problem is. The Dylan song “Sara,” Hall and Oates’ song “Sara Smile,” and even the Fleetwood Mac song “Sara” all were released years before I was born. The Starship song came later, as did the Ben Folds song “Zac and Sara,” and the Rascal Flats song “Sara Beth.” But pretty much all musical Saras lack the H.

If anything, missing that last letter should make my name easier to spell. But you’d be surprised how many of my lifelong friends get it wrong.

I would understand the problem if my name was pronounced “Sara” but spelled Askjdaksdjaskdjasdkajsdhjsdgfshgdosuehfwer. But in this case, it should be pretty obvious.

When I was a kid, it was the most frustrating thing in the world. I could never find those stupid little license plates with my name spelled correctly. Whenever I got a nameplate necklace, my mom had to break the H off for me. In elementary school I would have to surreptitiously scribble the H off of whatever my teachers had set up for us. If I was caught, it was vandalism, even though I was just trying to correct my name.

It was completely beyond my comprehension why such a normal, average name could cause such problems.

 I don’t care all that much if people screw it up when they’re sending me a text message or writing me a note (okay, it still pisses me off. I learned THEIR names. But not everyone is as conscious of the problem as I am). The thing that annoys me most, however, is when people spell it wrong in emails or Facebook comments. My name is IN my email address. It’s at the top of my Facebook page. Is it REALLY that hard to get it right when you’re looking right at it?

On my birthday, for example, about half of the people who wished me happy birthday on my Facebook page got my name wrong. I thought about de-friending all of them, but then I’d be left with very few friends. I think that’s a good measure of true friendship; if they can spell your name, they’re keepers.

Sometimes I think my mother did this to me on purpose. Not out of spite, but out of overcompensation. Her name is Carole with the Carole Lombard-inspired E at the end. Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor by leaving off that letter, so I would never know what it felt like to have someone ignore a letter of my name. She probably didn’t know that her plan would backfire and that I would spend my life pronouncing my name “Sara-no-H.” Sometimes it feels like my real middle name is “No H” instead of Elizabeth.

The good thing about the spelling difficulty is that it creates an instant bond between Saras. We have a united front against the common enemy: the Sarahs. We no-H-ers have to stick together. And maybe someday we’ll figure out a way to teach the world that there’s only one REAL way to spell the name.

And then all the H-ers will know what it feels to have an invisible but spoken suffix at the end of their name when they have to introduce themselves as “Sara-with-an-H.”

Until then, please try to spell my name right. Or else when I’m a famous author and you ask for an autograph, I’m going to spell your name wrong as payback.

Love,
Sara-no-H Goodman