Thursday, October 13, 2011

Captain Grammar

In high school, I had a retired Navy captain as my English teacher. He was brutal. Aside from the fact that he would kick our desks if we put our head down, he would also destroy our papers. Because his punishments were so severe, when he told us that we were to always use a comma before and, but, or or, I was not going to question him. I believed him and followed this rule intently. I did not ask why. The fear of being punished was there. I was classically conditioned.

When I got to college, this rule came with. It wasn't until a linguistics class that I actually learned why and how the comma conjunction would be used. But Captain Grammar did not stop there.

"Never ever use 'so,'" said Captain Grammar, "unless it is in the conclusion of the paper." I followed this rule up until working at the Writing Center. I would substitute this "evil" word with “therefore” instead. I must admit though, Captain Grammar is the reason I got better at writing. He was a good teacher. He just had some crazy rules for things.

Another myth I remember hearing was that we should never start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. I thought, okay. This makes sense. Then I had a few creative writing classes in high school where my teachers said it was okay. So I guess this was not technically a rule, but a suggestion.

It does matter if these rules are mistaught. It matters because we should all be learning the same rules. And I guess it also matters so that we can acknowledge that these rules are wrong so that we may learn the correct rules.


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