When your superpowers fail, have a Cupcake

Dec. 2, 2012
Dustin Renwick savors a handful of original Skittles, but oddly only in even numbers. He's always training for ...

Katy Perry has enough money to live out several teenage dreams, but the person she’s paying to OK her final song lyrics needs remedial training.

Every time I hear her pine for “the one that got away,” I sing her “that” with a “who.”

Perry can’t take the full dictionary-weight of blame for her transgressions. Everyone needs a good editor.

If you’re someone with grammar-tuned ears, the internet becomes a tough place to live. Twitter reduces conversational placeholders to “rite?” and “u no” while Facebook statuses play Sahara to any punctuation precipitation.

Although you can skirt such hideousness by sticking to The New York Times website and its preposterous Mr./Ms. constructions, good (and bad) money says you struggle to keep the cap on that mini Sharpie in your pocket when you walk by the elevators at work.

Waiting for a ride means your eyes wander to the poster that beckons you to the “Cupcake Sale on 3rd Floor, December 21st at 3:00 PM!!!!”

Unfortunately, you didn’t scratch out the sign with purple marker, so when I get there, I’ve had my fill of extraneous numbers and letters. I’ll pass on the Cupcake. Have to watch my capitalizations, u no.

People who want consistency and firm answers point to math and its related careers, where definite solutions provide a framework for a clear-cut lifestyle. Numbers follow rules, but letters leave room for gray.

Yet any word nerd knows that beneath the fuzzy wordplay lies the rigid structure of English grammar, complete with nefarious exceptions, wicked cul-de-sacs and traditional arguments about whether commas save lives or just muddle breakfast options. “Let’s eat, Grandpa. We’re having steak, beans and blueberry pie.”

An instinct for words starts early, like most traits that define us: Find an interview that doesn’t ask about a celebrity’s childhood. Something in that time shapes us before we become Cupcake eaters at our day jobs or cupcake eaters who spend the three bites wondering if there should have been an apostrophe on the Doctors Park sign.

I’d suggest that, as a child, you wondered what the [insert expletive profanity, obscenity or vulgarity you knew at the time] was happening with that ancient rune-like squiggly line Disney passed off as a capital D.

That instinct kept plowing through the ineptitude of everyone around you, though you’d never admit as much.

Zip forward to middle school, when your crush could land a locker away by virtue of your parents’ last names. Never mind the tequila and job-related ice breakers of early adulthood. Just be born to parents in the corresponding alphabetic identifier as your potential date.

An attitude for grammar, even if you didn’t yet know it, probably held an unclichéd vice-like grip on you through triumph and heartbreak, like the time the girl you dated in seventh grade broke up with you after two weeks.

Your relationship consisted of somebody telling you during recess that she liked you. “I like you, too.” Bam. Dating.

She’d dropped the note to end it all in your locker as if it were a blue mailbox, and in three sentences, she’d managed to leave you distraught at the notion that she could have misspelled a five-letter word.

“I’m truely sorry,” she’d written. The rest of the note didn’t matter, and if she’d typed it in Word, the talking paperclip would have suggested she use “tritely” instead.

These powers remain difficult to flex in public, though you amount to nothing close to a superhero. People who work normal jobs, the consultants and counselors, don’t spend time wondering about the semicolon on the highway billboard.

Above all, you sound snotty, pretentious even, pointing out that someone’s comma doesn’t belong or that you’ll attend the party only if they don’t capitalize the invitation’s every noun and article.

Taking time to explain the function of an article leaves you feeling powerless indeed.

You might have taken a class that finally introduced you to grammar, the source of your strength, shortly after that locker-turned-mailbox debacle. For me, it took until graduate school to learn about the system for which I’m cursed to correct someone else’s speech inside my own head.

A fortunate scenario will deliver you to a teacher who makes grammar interesting and enjoyable. She’ll turn language from a curse into a quiet blessing because the field you aim to work in — full of observers, listeners, writers, storytellers — has places for people who don’t need to be told about non-essential clauses.

Your professor astounds you with her superhero balance of humility and grammatical prowess, and she might not make canned spinach tasty, but you’d let her try, even if it involved that ghastly bean-and-blueberry recipe.

She releases you and your new friends as a cohort a few dozen strong, and your group streaks into a world full of misused impacts and misplaced modifiers. She wants you to tell your neighbor the importance of daylight saving time and gently guide a friend wandering his way through a thank-you note to write a sentence that doesn’t end in a preposition, though sometimes it’s hard not to.

Even after accomplishing these feats you might lie in bed at night, your mind accommodating both sleep and a nagging sense that your powers failed for a brief moment around 3 p.m. and you left out a vowel in the president’s name.

But not everyone can be correct all the time, rite? TC Mark

image – Shutterstock
Dustin Renwick

Dustin Renwick

Dustin Renwick savors a handful of original Skittles, but oddly only in even numbers. He’s always training for …

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