Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Loser Pangs

I'm 18 years old. I'm working the cash register at the local Kash 'N Karry grocery store. It's a good hair day. I feel pretty. A good-looking guy comes through the line -- a guy with the air of being on the make. Big time. He gets to the front of the line. He leans closer. And with a handsome, devious smile he nods in the direction of my co-worker April and asks, "Is she single?"

For a long time, I thought no one else suffered from occasionally feeling like a speck of dust. And I didn't bring it up, either, because I default to pettiness. For example, you wouldn't believe how many things I could find wrong with April's looks -- not to mention her I.Q.

I figured these feelings, which I hereby dub “loser pangs,” were something I would outgrow. Apparently not.

Both my books are about grammar nitpickers gone wild. “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies” is in its sixth printing. (Could be seventh by now. I’m not sure.) “Mortal Syntax” I believe is better. I’ve written a column on grammar for about five years. I’ve been on NPR. Been on TV. At a recent library expo, got to be, basically, an opening standup act for Paula Poundstone. Also, I conquered alcoholism and got a college degree despite dropping out of school in the ninth grade.

And none of that can erase the big L on my forehead today.

Today’s New York Times website has a page devoted to the topic of grammar. Its introduction begins:

“Why are people so obsessed with grammar, and so offended by real or imagined
lapses? They argue over split infinitives and sentences that end in
prepositions, almost to the point of blows. (Winston Churchill was supposedly so
exasperated by a speechwriter’s avoidance of prepositional endings that he
erupted: “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Note the use of the weaselly word “supposedly”: some sources say an anonymous
British official, not Churchill, was the source of the famous remark.)”
Pretty much the drum I’ve been beating for years.

The site lists dozens of resources and blogs and articles and even books -- none of them mine.
I figured that I was on par with “When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It,” by Ben Yagoda.
I figured wrong. And a keyword search confirmed it. I just don’t rank.

So this morning, as my coffee is still just beginning to kick in, I’m wrestling with loser pangs.

I sure hope April got fat.

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