How many grammar Nazis does it take to screw in a light bulb?...... Too.
Uh-oh. Fourteen words into this column and I am already in trouble. Do I cap up Nazis or not?
(Note: when I submitted the story for editing I wrote "nazis" and the editor exercised her authority by capping the "N". I'd argue it's not the fascist party, it would be reasonably argued back that it is correct style. In my career I've seen both. And so on, forever...)
Welcome to our serious universe of editorial language usage.
As arts editor, I need to be able to condense a 20-minute interview with an Australian D'n'B dude (with a new album) into 500 words; understand that if I research a person, place or situation on Wikipedia it will be either partly wrong or wholly out of date (especially for bands); and possess the ability to stare at a wall of computer words when it's sunny outside. Really sunny. Hit-the-beach-or-the-slopes sunny.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to work where Oxford commas are not important, where spelling mistakes don't turn people into snobs, and, alternatively, where I don't feel fatigued and annoyed when people spell "awe!" if they see a new puppy on Facebook (and not "aw!").
But the world exists as it does; people are as they are — and grammar is not an objective science. We have the choice of erupting in fury over a misplaced comma or accepting, with almost Zen-like patience, that all will be well and the sunset will be just as pretty at the end of the day.
When I write fury, I mean it. I've seen grown men throw punches over commas. It was awesome (with an "E" and using the original, correct meaning of the word). I've seen shouts exchanged, and exchanged a few of my own shouts with colleagues I later made up with over the capitalization of a bird's name — in journalism it's snowy owl, not Snowy Owl. Sorry. (Not really.)
But it takes a lot to really piss me off.
For example, one newspaper I worked for in England had a peculiar sense of entitlement that encouraged it to add the British "U" to proper nouns — so Pearl Harbor in Hawaii became Pearl Harbour, despite how it read in atlases. I argued with my editor — to no avail.
It was a ridiculous decision. They eventually changed the rule, years later, but a quick search of their website still shows two versions being used in recent months.
Our language is a subjective ever-evolving art form with arguable rules, largely dependent on the era and cultural position of the communicator.
Which brings me to Canadian English, a land where "jewelry" is "jewellery" on shop signs and novels, but "jewelry" in journalism.
Earlier this month, Maclean's Magazine ran a story about how Canadians are changing the way they speak. It's undeniable, eh?
They go into the stereotype of "oot" and "aboot," words that I never pronounced this way, as a prairie girl — it's "owt" and "abowt" as far as I'm concerned. This "oot" thing is East Coast, or kinda Ontario. Correct me if I'm wrong (the theme of this piece), but it's not something we say "owt" here in lotus land.
Journalist Meagan Campbell writes in Maclean's: "We are pronouncing 'God' more like 'gawd,' 'bagel' like 'bahgel,' 'pillow' like 'pellow,' and 'sorry' less like 'sore-y.' The word 'Timbit' is becoming 'Tembet,' and 'Dan slipped on the staircase' now sounds more like 'Don' 'slept' on it."
Oh my "gawd."
The new vowels aren't actually all that new; linguists discovered them in 1995. Paul De Decker of Memorial University of Newfoundland, a part of the world that I hope shows an interest in keeping its beautiful status quo in pronunciation, says vowels are getting higher and further back in the mouth.
He adds that the change is originating in Ontario — and is owed to greater diversity in our country and tolerance for speakers from many nations and languages. OK, that's good. Interesting and a positive development, even.
He notes that young women picking up a Valley Girl-like twang were part of the change, which makes sense considering how my high school friends and I spoke in Winnipeg, but there's more.
One study heard the shift to be equally advanced in Thunder Bay as in Toronto, and others have found it among seniors as old as 90. It's blanket coverage.
"People who don't consider themselves innovative or hip are showing it," De Decker tells Maclean's.
And it's moving our pronunciation style away from that of our American cousins, which is astonishing, given how overwhelming U.S. popular culture is.
It's worth mentioning at a time where it is popular to express concern over the Americanization of Canada.
It looks like we still aim to keep our unique and sometimes silly ways.
I'm grateful for that.
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