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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Grammar: a way of putting words together so they make sense, especially to people who can't really read or people who just need a little extra help.

Today’s episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Compound-complex sentences.

I’m sure that, like me, whenever you have a question about life, whether it be urgent or trifling, you immediately ask yourself one question, and that question would be, in all likelihood, “What would Russell Smith do?”, unless, of course, like me, you cannot stomach any more of his preening pomposity.

I’m now convinced that whoever edits Russell’s newspaper column has a wicked sense of humour. This is a person I want to meet. He or she is no longer correcting Russell’s grammar, and I love it.

As my Canadian readers may know, Russell is the self-appointed Canadian fashion guru who has recently styled himself (ha!) a grammar expert. I called him out on this when he had to look up the meaning of the word “that”, but he is still going strong and now has his own show on the national broadcaster. What will it take to stop him?

I’ll concede that Russell is very knowledgeable about important topics such as fingernail length and hair colour, but he is no grammar expert.

I see from his latest column that he has figured out how to use commas, semicolons and dashes. This is excellent progress, but the key to good grammar is that nobody should notice it. Russell, you’ve finally figured out how to use the word “that”, but you’re a little too excited about punctuation for my liking.

Let’s review a sample sentence:

The popularity of look-at-me blogs and Facebook pages, the culture of exhibitionism that the Web promotes, it is said, are all part of this and give rise to a disproportionate valorizing of celebrity, and it is this that makes teens crazy, literally crazy, for fame.


Since I’m clearly part of this “culture of exhibitionism”, I’m going to expose my own credentials: I’ve been working full-time as a writer for the past eight years and have an honours degree in journalism from a respected Canadian university. They call this a “four-year BJ”, and many of my readers have indicated that they want one, too. Sucks to be you. The point is, I like to think that I know something about writing, and, my friends, I can guarantee that, according to accepted standards, Russell’s columns, frankly, leave a lot to be desired, at least for those of us who appreciate, really appreciate, clear writing.

Journalists usually make an effort to keep their sentences short, like this:

The popularity of look-at-me blogs has created a culture of exhibitionism. This makes teens crazy, literally crazy, for fame.

I love commas. I really do. They create lists, form compound sentences, and, best of all, allow writers to provide commentary on their own writing. But when reading Russell’s column, I am reminded of a kindergartener:

Today I was looking at the Internet, and I thought it was bad, and I figured that everyone wants to be famous, and that would be bad, and people are going crazy, and that’s bad, and some guy TOTALLY shooted a bunch of people!

Russell, you’ve got an entire column to fill every few days. There’s no need to pack every possible idea into a single sentence. It’s great to see that you’ve figured out how to use dependent clauses, but you might want to try cutting back to one or two per sentence. While you’re at it, you should put your thesaurus away and focus on making your columns easier to read. Your schick is wearing thin.