Being a journalist has ruined casual reading forever
I used to be normal. I used to be able to read an email or participate in an online chat and do little more than engage in the conversation and plot the occasional witty (maybe) quip. I was able to overlook typos – maybe even fail to see them at all – and react to misspelled words or incorrect uses of grammar with an indifferent shrug. It wasn't the end of the world.
Then, I was hired by a newspaper. And it ruined reading forever.
The wonderful world of journalism is an ocean of words, sentences and paragraphs. It's a minefield of punctuation marks, capitalized and lowercase letters. Grammar is king here. Remember those lessons where you have to separate subject from predicate, discern nouns from verbs and cling to the hope that you can remember what a preposition is? Did you ever have to conjugate verbs or diagram sentences? Were you ever scolded because your participle was dangling? – don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds.
For most people, these rigid rules of the English language are blissfully forgotten in the adult years. It's about as important for most people as knowing how to graph linear equations or identify the organs of a dissected frog – lessons also learned in school.
But of course, somebody has a job that involves graphing equations. Somebody goes to work each day at a place where frog organ identification is crucial – don't ask me what that job is, but I'm sure it exists. And yes, I have that job where you have to retain and apply the finer points of the English language.
When I first decided I wanted to write articles for a living, I just wanted to figure out how to write good. I soon learned that I actually wanted to learn to write well – and there were a few other things I was getting wrong.
Many of these lessons began in journalism school, in a class with the sole function of preparing students for a rigorous grammar and punctuation test. This lovely test was not only so daunting that it took nine weeks of class time to prepare for, it was essentially the gateway to continuing forward with the journalism major. Flunk the test and you ain't – excuse me, aren't – journalism material.
Well, as you might have guessed, I made it past the grammar and punctuation gate and only lost a small percentage of brain cells in the process. And I learned some nifty word-use rules that are a surefire way to irritate family and friends. Ask my dad how he knows the difference between the words anxious and eager.
My college classes continued to pound into my brain the proper ways to write until that wonderful day that I graduated and left the world of academia behind. And despite every attempt by collegiate instructors to mold my brain into a journalism machine, I spent the next seven years forgetting most of what I had learned. I was still normal.
But as I pointed out earlier, I eventually got hired by a newspaper. And the latent grammar monster inside awakened. A steady stream of writing stories, fixing errors in those stories and helping proofread two newspapers a week turned me into the beast typing these words you are reading right now.
Sure, it's great to write for a living – but at what expense? I can't read anything anymore without picking it apart. Social media posts, riddled with punctuation errors, rankle me. It's near impossible to read through one of my kids' essays or cute stories without whipping out the red pen. And don't even get me started on text messages.
I'm pretty sure my condition is a clinical disorder of some sort. It has to be. Pickiness of this level is not healthy and as much as I'd like to shut it off, I can't. And worse yet, there are times that my grammarian tendencies actually inspire happiness.
Consider this as proof. I was once sitting in my recliner on a Saturday morning, warm coffee in hand, soaking up a day off from work. Then, for no particular reason, my brain begins to wonder, "What is a dangling participle?" Because that's normal, right?
But it's what I did next that is truly disturbing and proof that I need professional help. I didn't shrug it off – I jumped on Google and looked it up. Not only did I look it up, I allowed a smile to cross my lips because I had managed not to make this error a regular occurrence in my work life. Yep, happiness inspired by grammar compliance – on my day off.
So, I am no longer normal. I am now a grammarian, a punctuation fascist, a tyrant that looks down upon the casual written words of peers with a sneer. Perhaps it is time for me to create a club or even a cult where other journalists, copyeditors and language arts teachers can gather and console each other. Ya know, that ain't a bad idea.
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