Growing Up Grammar

(George T. Crutchfield, 1933-2011)

Normal families, I have always believed, sit around the dinner table and talk about their days or their plans for the weekend.

At my house, conversation most likely was about grammar. Grammar. And still more grammar.

Daily newspapers were inspected and errors marked with a red pencil. Birthday gifts often were books about language.

My father, George, who passed away last month, was the consummate grammarian. He d worked at a newspaper while still in high school, then was editor of his college paper, an Associated Press reporter and ultimately journalism professor.

A gruff old codger, he expressed affection by correcting one s misuse of the English language. He was never shy about pointing out grammar mistakes to colleagues, student or his own family.

George knew the AP Stylebook and Strunk and White the way a preacher knows the Bible.

Pity the poor soul who used contact as a verb (instead of make contact with ), began a phrase with hopefully instead of it is hoped or mentioned that something was for free. A long lecture was sure to ensue.

Still, I guess some of it sank in. Working as a writer and editor comes naturally to me.

if I wanted to rebel, all I had to do was say bring instead of take, or historic when historical was the accurate term. Perhaps my ultimate rebellion was marrying a German who s English, at the time, was barely passable. George was a good sport and usually let my husband s unusual sentence construction and made-up words slide, at least face-to-face.

I miss the old codger. I m fortunate to have colleagues and friends who respect language and will set me straight should I try to overuse exclamation points or to end a sentence with a preposition.

It is hoped.

Lisa Crutchfield tries not to proof billboards, signs and menus for grammatical errors.