Edwin Newman, We Hardly Knew You, You're and Yours

I was so sorry to hear that Edwin Newman died. My copy of Strictly Speaking was possibly the first responsible book I read without it being assigned to me. I bought it because I wanted it and I read it because I wanted to. I was 20 and probably more mature than I am now. Definitely more serious than I am now.

Journalism school threatened to ruin me as a personable, likable human being. In college, despite the fact that my roommates were mostly fashion models, phys ed majors, a cage dancer, and in a couple of cases, “college students” in quotes only, I spent an inordinate amount of time with fellow writers. The result was that I thought that the whole world knew the difference between their, there and they’re and that they also cared.

Like all bubbles, it was an unhealthy atmosphere. I was editing my junk mail. I was criticizing people who didn't know who their congressman was. I was a drag. For fun, the guy I was dating and I would go to lectures. We once participated in an audience performance of Handel’s The Messiah. But enough about me and my nerdly ways.

Edwin Newman. I pored over Strictly Speaking and absorbed all the rules and nit-picky criticisms of  language that is misused and abused.

Then I got out of college and got a real job in the adult world, where my writer friends and I were even more of a minority, and the world was seemingly overrun with fashion models, aerobics instructors, cage dancers and people whose job descriptions were in quotation marks.

And they were all spelling things incorrectly and misusing the language somethin’ turrible.

So in a moment weakened by three beers at the Backstage Lounge, I started a club with my husband and our friend George. The club was called The King’s English and we, as members, were going to work for the improvement of the English language, mostly by writing to businesses about their signs.

We had gotten fed up with the Kozy Korner and the Kountry Kitchen and other misspellings for the sake of being cute.

The club didn’t last long. We may have gotten to the fourth beer, but I’m not even sure about that. We tried to recruit a new member, Larry Quinn, who was a copyeditor where we worked, and he just kept shaking his head and saying, “No, no, no . . . you can’t do that. That won’t work. Aw, geez . . .” Larry felt as strongly about preserving the language as we did, but he thought we were just being stupid.

He was right. We started to write down some parameters of what was right and what was wrong, and when we got to businesses that overused Olde and Shoppe, we couldn’t decide whether that was bad/corny/sickening/wrong or whether it was just going back to the original English . . . like the King’s English . . . uh-oh . . .

I still think that Edwin Newman would have been happy to see that we at least tried. Since then, I’ve dangled a few participles and mismatched my subjects and verbs. I make mistakes in my writing and can always - always - find an error if I just keep reading my pieces enough times.

Hopefully, no one has noticed.

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