Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Better Living Through Grammar (and Punctuation!)

I had a vague idea of following up on last night's entry, responding with gratitude and helpful suggestions to the comments so far; but I think I'll save that for another night. Instead I think I'll ramble for a bit about a book I haven't even seen yet, except for a few sample pages on Amazon.com.

Pepper has no interest in grammar

The book is Grammar for the Soul: Using Language for Personal Change by Lawrence A Weinstein. As the title suggests, it's part cognitive therapy / self help book, part Strunk & White style usage guide to the English language. The premise seems to be that grammar and punctuation can make a difference in the way you perceive the world, the way others perceive you, and the way you live your life. For example: a colon is assertive; it demands attention, especially from that guy who bounced a check off you last week. Active verbs make you feel less of a victim than passive ones. Even word order can affect how you feel about the situation described.

Oh, really?

I ran across an article about Professor Weinstein and his book in Tucson Weekly today, the same issue that had that nasty summer movie guide. Apparently he was in Tucson a few days ago, doing a reading from his book at the UA bookstore. I missed it, obviously, but no matter. The article and the Amazon listing give me the gist, and I can always take a look at the book on my next trip to Barnes and Noble. You know me: I'm not big on self-actualization stuff. I tend to distrust claims that you can improve your life by following these simple rules. But a number of things mentioned in the article intrigue me. For example:

'I am being kept on hold,' or, 'I have been holding for 10 minutes now.' Which sentence indicates that the speaker knows she has other options?

"I beat my best time in the 100-meter dash today, but I came in fourth." Or, "I came in fourth today, but I beat my best time in the 100-meter dash." Which one leaves the speaker feeling good about the accomplishment?

Now, I'm not at all sure choosing one version of a sentence over another is at all likely to put a spring in your step and help you face the world, but it may affect the impression you make on others. If nothing else, it's something to be aware of in one's writing, and maybe even when speaking.

Weinstein's claims are a bit grander than that, though. His book has sections titled "Bootstrap Grammar - Taking Life in Hand," "Grammar for Belonging," "Grammar for Freedom" and "Grammar to Restore the Ego," among others. He certainly seems to be expecting a lot from a preposition or a semicolon!

Still, language geek that I am, I remain intrigued by the idea. I think I'll put it on my wish list.


No comments: