A few weeks ago at work, I was greatly anticipating our lunch for Friday. Here’s the menu that was posted in our mail room:
As you can see, we weren’t having Fish Tacos. We were having Fish Taco’s… what? Was it Fish Taco’s cousin? Fish Taco’s twin? It didn’t say!
It could have been the remaining items were a list of everything owned by a Fish Taco. So we’d be having Fish Taco’s tortilla chips, Fish Taco’s fruit salad, etc., and one must presume, Fish Taco’s oatmeal no-bake cookies. (Just like Mama Fish Taco used to make.)
And yet, come Friday, what do you suppose I saw but many fish tacos all in a row, not in possession of anything at all!
I was crushed. Though I must allow, the no-bake cookies were yummy.
No doubt you’re wondering what I did about this apostrophe abuser in our midst. Given my fondness for the written word, my respect for a well-placed semicolon, surely I set the matter straight?
Corrected their errant punctuation with a flash of my red pen for all the world to see? (Or at least my coworkers, at any rate.)
I did not.
For that matter, other than inform you fine folk about it (Husband, too), I didn’t tell a soul.
The fact is, I live by a code. That code being:
Thou Shalt Not Leave Anonymous Notes or Comments Correcting Someone’s Grammar.
You’ll note that it doesn’t say I can’t correct someone, only that I can’t correct them anonymously. Meaning if I’m not willing to sign my name or speak to the person face-to-face, then no correction shall be given.
Of course, should I find out who posts the weekly menus (I have an idea, but I don’t know for sure), I might find a way to casually bring up the matter when no one else is around.
Me: “By the way, on the menu? You might want to drop the apostrophes. Except for Brenda’s Awesome Tapioca Pudding, they’re not needed.”
Apostrophe-challenged co-worker: “Oh, I say, thank you ever so much!”
Either that or I let the matter drop and learn to live with it. Though I confess, when I see a plural noun impersonating a possessive, my editing hand gets a little twitchy.
It’s difficult, but I must restrain myself. The code demands it.
This wasn’t always the case. In my younger years, I remember correcting a few store signs when no one was looking (“Your invited” was a particular target, as I recall). And I even went so far as to correct a card my mom gave to me (that one still pains me — I was one rotten kid).
Then in college, something happened that brought about the formation of my code.
First some background: My first year of college was at a small, private school. The majority of the students were from well-educated, white parents, and I expect most were upper-middle class. (My family was on the lower end of middle class and decidedly not well-educated. I have no doubt this helped a little with my getting in the school.)
Like most colleges of that time period, it had a newspaper. For their April 1st edition, they did an issue filled with humorous, made-up stories. On the front page was a photo of one of the more popular students sitting in the quad and holding a baby. The baby was dark-skinned, and I remembered the original story pertained to a mission group that was doing something or other.
Anyway, for the April Fool’s edition, the photo was reused with the caption, “After taking a paternity test, Peder Svenson learned he’s a father. He said he doesn’t know who the mother is, but will begin his search for her immediately in Tuve Hall.”
Note: Tuve Hall was the dormitory where most of the foreign students lived, many of them devout Muslims.
A few days after the newspaper hit the stands, a large display was posted on the glass doors in the Student Union with a long message written (and signed) by a number of Tuve Hall residents. As I’m sure you can imagine, they were not pleased with the photo’s caption and they listed all the many ways it insulted their faith, their culture, and their way of life. And while they were at it, listed the many ways they felt separated from the other students, not included in their activities, and come to think of it, why was there a Tuve Hall in the first place?
As I stood there reading the message, I wondered how it was that I missed something that was so clear to them. I remembered the caption well enough, but never once considered it from their angle. And while some of their statements were a bit overblown, they had a point. It was insulting.
They were wanting the newspaper to print an apology and they asked for students to show their support by signing their names at the bottom of the display. (A very small number of students had signed by this point.)
As I stood there, two male students approached the sign and one had a pen. I thought he was going to sign and I made a decision that if he did, I would too. (I’m not sure why I needed another person to give me the courage, but there it is.) He stepped up to the sign and with a quick three or four swipes of the pen, corrected its grammar. Then they smiled at me and walked away.
I returned to my dorm, no signature in place.
After giving the matter a great deal of thought, as is my way, I later returned to the display with the intent of signing. Of course by that time it was down, because this was the early 80s and public protests weren’t fashionable then. (To my recollection no apology was printed either, though I could have missed it.)
I gave a lot of thought to that sign, to the people who wrote it, to how it must have felt for them to pour out their feelings and ask for just a modicum of respect, only to have someone correct their English and deface their sign. Because once the grammar police left their mark, others felt free to add their comments of “give me a break” and “it was just a joke!”
And that’s when my code began. Never again would I make good grammar more important than people.
Other items have been added to my code over the years. To the effect that as of now, I try to live with the understanding that nothing — as in no thing and no idea — is more important than a human being. Not my possessions, not my aspirations, not my politics and certainly not my religion.
Because let’s be clear: once you allow your doctrine to matter more than people, that’s when you’ve joined a false religion.
And speaking as a blogger — particularly a blogger who fancies herself a humorist — this must include the Religion of Comedy. For even “it was just a joke” is not a pass to be disrespectful.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve not always succeeded in following this code of mine, but I do my utmost and for the most part, I manage it. And I will say that looking back on my life, I have never regretted the times I showed kindness.
Listen, I know this post started out a lighthearted poking fun at bad grammar, then made a sharp turn into something else altogether. (Sorry-not-sorry.)
I can’t predict where my thoughts will lead me, or when a Fish Taco’s moment in the spotlight might end.
But here’s a truth: if we want more civility in our country, it has to start with us. And I think the time to begin is now.