Put down your thumbs and think for a minute

Sharon M. Kennedy

The other day someone inquired how I come up with ideas for this column. My response was fairly quick. I said I could write an interesting story about a piece of gum I saw on the pavement if I were so inclined. Then, I asked myself, why is it so difficult to come up with 900 weekly words that are fresh, amusing, sympathetic or serious?

Well, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole. You know what I mean. We’ve all watched toddlers trying to fit something into a space where it doesn’t belong. Some kids handle the stress better than others and keep at it until they figure it out or give up and move on. Other children throw the piece across the room, crack the television screen and scream for 10 minutes. Sometimes that’s what I feel like doing, but I know if I crack my computer screen I’m out of luck so I muddle on.

I was taught never to end a sentence with a preposition and every time I do, I feel guilty as if Mrs. Teague’s deceased eyes are drilling into mine. Mrs. Teague was my fourth grade teacher. I have no idea if she left this Earth, but I do remember she taught phonics, a subject I just couldn’t get the hang of. There I go again. I’ll often fiddle with a sentence trying to avoid the forbidden prepositional ending, but what can I do? Sometimes that’s the only proper way to end it.

That brings up another problem. End what? The pronoun is too far away from the noun to make sense, but it makes even less sense to continue to repeat the noun and say “that’s the only proper way to end the end of a sentence.” See what I mean? You have no idea how I struggle to write grammatically correct columns.

Another thing I was taught in a grade school English class was to place a comma after a prepositional phrase introduced a sentence. For instance, the comma is supposed to go where I just put it, but according to basic grammar rules, one should go there, too, which makes a sentence appear full of commas and that, alone, could drive a perfectly normal person crazy.

I forget the rules about dependent and independent clauses and constantly worry if it’s the dependent clause that gets surrounded by commas or the independent one. I’ve looked for the answer in the Penguin English Handbook on my desk and when I’m in a hurry I’ve done a Google search, but I still don’t remember. I realize, of course, that “doing a Google search” is the kind of phrase capable of sending shudders down the spine of any English teacher well versed in our language. I suppose “well versed” should be written “well-versed” but I’m tired of using hyphens and even more vexed at using commas.

Perhaps it’s a good thing public schools tossed out most of the basic grammar rules I learned in first grade. Dear Miss Penner has probably joined Mrs. Teague in heaven, but if not, someone might know where she is and send her a copy of this column. Miss Penner was the sweetest teacher ever to stand in front of a blackboard. We all loved her. We even loved the enormous round black pencils we held to practice printing our letters across the lines of tablet paper.

You remember the pencils to which I refer. They were as round and thick as a lumberjack’s finger. The writing tip was blunt, and I’m sure Miss Penner had no choice but to take out her jack knife and whittle the end once it was worn down. Oh dear. There I go again ending a sentence with a you know what that should read a you-know-what, but I refuse to follow the rules of my youth for one more minute. I’d done with correct grammar and punctuation. Who cares about prepositions, commas, hyphens, apostrophes or anything as bizarre as a homonym?

Quiz any college graduate and I’m willing to bet they would have you committed if you dared question their slaughter of the English language and their ignorance of the fundamental rules of grammar. They might even have a difficult time defining “grammar.” I think it’s absolutely marvelous that students are graduating from high school with the ability to print their names or perhaps even write them in cursive. Bravo, I say. It’s about time we English teachers stopped punishing students. In our slick new century, who cares if students no longer have the ability to understand cursive font? They have computers and phones and thumbs. That’s all they need.

How did penmanship improve our lives or critical thinking improve our lot? What did we gain from thumbing through textbooks made of paper instead of pixels? How many of us learned the correct way to fold a travel map? Who can read a compass? When did we have occasion to flaunt our understanding of verb conjugation? See what I mean?

The new way is the right way. Flocks of undereducated students descend upon college campuses every year and every year more flocks graduate with four-year degrees as worthless as the paper they’re written on. There. I’ve written a sentence with no commas and ended it with a preposition.

From whence do I get my ideas? Why, they’re everywhere!

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.