PAPERWORK: I have great respect for grammar, me really do

Me love words. That’s right. Suck it up grammar gurus. I broke a rule there, didn’t I? Or could I say, didn’t me? Ha. Still doing it.

I am here to confess. No — proclaim … that I enjoy breaking the rules. Grammar rules.

And sometimes behavior rules: Remember the first time you colored outside the lines?

And how about that Pig Latin? Atthay asway unfay.

So yeah. I think every now and then it is OK to play with the grammar rules. Keyword “play.”

I am not a vandal. I do not want to torch textbooks. Or cause harm.

And let me etch in stone that I have great respect for English teachers and their mission.

But this grammar thing has been a bumpy ride for me. Scary in the beginning, starting in those English classes we all had to take.

English classes were my favorite. But there were a lot of rules. A lot.

I actually enjoyed learning about words and the different ways they could be used. And how to identify those uses. Subject. Verbs. Adverbs.

And bless all those adjectives. (Little, enticing, disturbing, trouble-making demons that drive newspaper editors to break pencils and chug Pepto.)

I even enjoyed diagramming sentences. Like I said, me love them words.

But. Nope. Gave that up. (Diagram those sentences. Ha.)

See. See. I am having way too much fun playing with words.

But back to the scary part — all those rules in English class.

The one rule that made me squirm was paragraphing. I had trouble understanding the rule.

As I recall each graph was supposed to focus on a specific topic. When the topic changes you start a new graph.

I saw (and still see in print) some pretty long paragraphs.

This made me jittery when I began writing for newspapers. Every paper (back then) had a copy desk. People who knew the rules. Preached the rules. And protected the rules.

Although, there always were newspaper style rules that irritated English teachers. (Picture an angry nun coming at you with a ruler in her hand.)

The paragraphing rule was an exception. If anything, editors wanted to see more paragraphs. And they were right.

I have my own rules now. My style, I guess. Most often short sentences. And short graphs. Not always but often.

This reflects one of my editor rules: Don’t write it. Say it.

This word spree I peck out each week is a conversation, not an essay or speech or thesis. Just me chatting with you.

People often talk in spurts and bursts. They stop and pause. Often just to breathe. And think.

(It’s when we write that we tend to go on and on with lots of commas. We placate all those grammar rules we were taught.)

Shorter graphs let the brain breathe … and think. (It also looks easier to read, more inviting in skinny newspaper columns.)

And hey, my quickie online search found this:

“You should start a new paragraph:

“1. When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs.

“2. To contrast information or ideas.

“3. When your readers need a pause.

“4. When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion.”

I was happy to see No. 3.

I like to think I am bending rules. Not breaking and trashing. And there are limits. (Newspaper editors can tolerate only so much.)

After all, words are precision machines. Tools of the trade. We must be careful how we use then.

Or abuse them.

But also … when appropriate … those tools can be props in your imagination.

It depends on the story you have to tell. And how you want to tell it.

I truly enjoy what can be done with a single word or string of words.

So … do you believe me now? I will say it again.

“Me love words.”

By Lonny Cain of Ottawa, the retired managing editor of The Times. First published on on July 24, 2020.