Monday, June 21, 2010

Subjunctivitis and participle popsicles

Even though my copyediting class has taken up time that could I could theoretically have spent on research and paper writing, I think the class is well worth it. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't spend the extra time on research stuff anyhow.) I never felt like I learned English grammar and syntax very well. My teachers often praised my writing, but I wrote on intuition. "Hmm, that sounds about right." I didn't even learn what adjectives and adverbs were until I studied German in middle school.

The copyediting class is illuminating all those dark corners of English usage. Did you know that the word republican should be capitalized when referring to a member of the party but not when referring to a type of government? It's humbling to realize how many constructs I've avoided or desecrated. Some of the rules have historical or logical reasons and some are simply grandfathered into the language. All this examination of the details of English can't help but improve my writing, and I find that a rather stimulating prospect. (The construction of that last sentence is itself a point of contention. Follett's Modern American Usage does not approve of the phrase cannot help but, but Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage does.)

This week we read the chapter on grammar. It was the most difficult chapter (so far) for me to understand. Part of it talked about the subjunctive mood. What is that? It sounds like a crabby mood. And what's a participle? Is it soem sort of popsicle?

I'm sure I use these things. I feel like I should have learned at some point in my education what the are, but I have no clue. In order to learn how to use them correctly, I need to figure out what they are. Double-duty this week!


  1. When I was in high school, I took two foreign languages. I contend that I learned more about the construct of language from those than I did in the majority of my English classes.

    I also spent time as a journalism major in college, and I have felt that was one of the best uses of my time in college. I got a lot of practice writing for an audience. I learned a lot about editing. I learned how writing could become 'easy' (or as easy as writing ever gets). I use these skills all the time in my scientific writing.

    It is funny how we take a very different approach to things until we receive more formal training. I guess the same could be said for science, too. We take a lot of things for granted until we learn how much goes into them.

  2. I considered taking a second major in journalism in undergrad, but decided against it so I could graduate in four years without causing myself a nervous breakdown. Now I kind of wish I had tried to do it anyhow. It seems that journalism schools don't like to let people take much beyond an introductory class without being part of the program.