September 05, 2005

Cartoonists on the grammatical front line

The comics are on the front line of grammatical correctness, according to a letter by Byrna Weir (of Rochester NY) in the summer 2005 issue of The Key Reporter (the newsletter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society), p. 15.  Weir thanks the newsletter for a brief piece on Eleanor Gould Packard,

who worked as a grammarian at [The New Yorker].  I appreciated her "pet language peeve" asking that the writer "always change 'they only did five things' to 'they did only five.' "

    This mistake appears frequently in newspapers.  A favorite section is the comics, where language usage varies.  Creators could provide a service to readers of all ages if they would have characters speak correctly.  On a recent Sunday Hagar the Horrible said, "We only had time to save our most prized possessions!"  But "Jump Start" always has correct language--and a character who is a member of the Grammar Police.  In "Brenda Starr," not only is the main character, a journalist, careful, but everyone speaks well.  In a recent strip she [said], "But whom can I trust?"

    Some will say the funnies will not sound "real" if the speech is correct.  If not, let us have reality-plus.

[The boldfacing is mine.]  Correct is correct, no matter what the context.   Correctness trumps reality.  Novelists please copy: if they come for the cartoonists today, they may come for you tomorrow.

Many sighs.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 5, 2005 12:46 PM