Word power

I never really had a chance.

My mother taught English to first graders for 30 years. She taught me to read before I started kindergarten. When I wouldn’t stop fighting with my older brother, my punishment was no bedtime story from the big, red book full of dragons and princesses and make-believe.

I am, therefore, only too happy to explain my obsession with words for one of my favorite websites, grammarly.com, as it promotes literacy. (If you too believe words can change the world, you can join me by clicking here.)

One of my most enduring memories of elementary school is the fat blue spiral notebook I carried everywhere, scribbling the novel of the moment and the sixth-grade class play (Death in the Woods, God help us all). A rotating cast of imaginary characters kept me good company among the cows and dogwood trees in the farm country of my childhood.

I was destined to turn into that person who corrects grammar, out loud, on Facebook, and/or in my head. My nature was nurtured to attune itself to words, to their power and their possibilities, as well as their meaning, spelling, and usage. I may not have always been able to pronounce my ever-growing vocabulary (I still have to pause for a moment before launching into superfluous), but I always loved words. It strikes me as something verging on criminal when words are misused, abused, dumbed down and demeaned and left stranded by the side of the syntax highway like so many broken-down participles. It causes me something close to physical pain to see the wrong ‘your’ in a post or to get texts interspersed with U and R and LOL. Choose the correct word, and allow it its God-given full spelling. Give it its due dignity. Let the word work for you the way it wants.

I apologize to those I have offended with my omnipresent grammar goggles, and to those who don't understand my inability to let the lower-case first word of a complete sentence after a colon go, but it is who I am. That’s important, because I don’t always have the rest of that definition at my fingertips these days.  I’m entering my third year in a new state far from family and friends and my sixth month of a new career that is a relative of the one I ate, slept, and breathed for 18 years (though it sometimes feels like a cousin far, far removed.) I’m skidding into my 41st birthday without brakes and looking around a little wild-eyed, wondering where the last 15 years went. When the uncertainty overwhelms me, I write, just like I have for as long as I can remember. Words are my gift and my comfort, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

In the wrong hands, words can wound. A biting word can break things harder to heal than bone. It can rupture trust and fracture communities. But the right words, the carefully calibrated phrase or the off-the-cuff, on-the-money remark, can be a salve to the soul. As I labored through my nightly laps in the neighborhood pool on this energy-depleted evening, I felt like a bloated, bleached whale. Then the little girl at the other end of the pool said to her daddy:  “That lady looks like a dolphin.” Words. On the page, permanence only enhances their power, so their placement requires care and consideration.

So I am sorry if I visibly cringe at reading a 'that' where there should be a 'who' (or worse, a 'who’s' where there should be a 'whose'), or offer an unsolicited reminder that the ‘or not’ after whether is redundant, or twitch at the sight of a hyphen stuck like a barnacle to an adverb. I can’t help it, and at this point, I wouldn’t really want to change.

Words have been my sunshine and my solace my entire life, and if I know nothing else, I know that there is never a reason to end a sentence with at – never.