Today is National Grammar Day and word nerds across the country are celebrating. There are grammar haiku contests on Twitter, a litany of grammar-related memes on Facebook and it is likely that students will be subject to the whims of their over-eager English teachers on this most glorious grammar-focused day.
The word grammar comes from the Greek word grammatikē technē, which means “letters.” The word is related to all Greek-derived words that refer to writing; for instance, the Greek word for photography means “writing with light.” Grammar, as a form of study, entered the English language sometime in the 1300s and it was more or less based on the concept of learning in general. It took a few centuries for the field to be narrowed down and applied specifically to classical language and literature study. Today, per the Macmillan Dictionary, grammar means, “the set of rules that describe the structure of a language and control the way that sentences are formed.”
But what is National Grammar Day exactly? And why should anyone care? William Safire, the famed American author, journalist and speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, said, “Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.” Considering his boss was far from perfect, figuratively speaking, I would say that this statement is true. So, with that idea in mind, is National Grammar Day a holiday based on the goal of attaining grammatical perfection?
The day itself was only established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, who is the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.
Sounds like an organization with a lofty cause and indeed, it is. The organization’s blog states, “There are huge problems in this world, and then there are problems that can be solved by everyday people with red pens and a little moxie. The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar is for pen-toters appalled by wanton displays of Bad English. (And we’re not talking about Bad English, the band, although their song, ‘Heaven is a 4 letter word’ needs a hyphen.”
I like their mindset!
And here is a bit more background. National Grammar Day is celebrated on March 4th of the year in an effort to play on the idea of “March Forth” in the name of good grammar. Plus, “March Forth!” in and of itself is a complete sentence.
Personally, I believe that there is a huge disconnect in the world of grammar. You have people who care about it deeply, like Brockenbrough, and then you have people who knowingly and proudly slaughter the rules of grammar all over the Internet. So what does this say exactly about our nation’s relationship with its language?
Richard Turner, the self-professed “Grammar Curmudgeon,” made a statement before his passing in 2011 that I feel accurately assesses our culture’s attitude toward grammar: “Grammar Checker—A software program that is not needed by those who know grammar and virtually useless for those who don’t.”
While I agree with Turner’s words, I do believe that events like National Grammar Day have the ability to raise awareness about the importance of writing and language and their role in the preservation of our culture. Language and words should be celebrated. Moreover, good grammar can be fun and its proper delivery shouldn’t be something deserving of an eye roll and a yawn.
So, in honor of National Grammar Day, I encourage everyone to “March Forth!” and engage in a bit of grammar vigilantism. Correct the Facebook status updates of your friends and instruct them on the difference between to, two and too, use the hashtag #GrammarDay unabashedly if you highlight errors in someone else’s tweet and unapologetically split infinitives—you owe it to your language. Consider it public service.
And if anyone accuses you of being a Grammar Nazi explain to them that it’s just your way of celebrating a very important National Holiday.
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