I want to write this one in honor of my daughter-in-law ,who understands the mechanics of the English language far better than I do . She has an advanced degree in American English , and she knows the ins and outs , all the ins and outs , no doubt , of grammar . I used to know some of it , a long time ago , but never to such a degree .
She hears in conversation and reads in print the misuses of tenses and a multitude of other corruptions of the lingo and I know it bothers her . Her standard mantra is ” You can’t say that !” and I’ve spent somewhere between fifteen and twenty years being told , ” You can’t say that ! ” because whatever I had uttered was evidently utterly disgraceful and unacceptable , given the written rules of the English language . Oh , yeah , there are rules . Lots of rules . I hadn’t even known that there are so many tenses , for example . The rules are recorded in scholarly books and evidently should be adhered to . At least , that’s the way I understand it .
Well , you have to know that my daughter-in-law is a Polish person , born and raised and living in Poland . I’m the first “native speaker ” who she had ever met . Should I have written “whom” she had ever met ? Now I’m a bit self -conscious about this stuff . Oh , if only I coulda remembered the grammar what I was taught to me in high school !
Jumpin’ Jupiter ! I knows I gots a grammar handbook somewheres in my garage unless I threw it out at some point . Maybe I should look for it . Ah , but I don’t think that even that single thin volume would help me rise to my daughter-in-law’s level of competence .
One time she said to me , ” You can’t say that ! ” when I hadn’t said anything at all . I pointed this discrepancy out to her , of course . : ” I haven’t even said anything this time “, but she was referring to the Guinness shirt I was wearing . Evidently the saying on the front of the shirt wasn’t quite grammatically correct .
” But , they said it ! ” I said , so there’s no use declaring that it can’t be said . That’s my default response — a pathetic wailing in the unschooled wilderness . I’ve had to reiterate and reiterate and reiterate over the years that potentially silly notion : when something’s already been said it’s been said —– the cat’s already out of the verbal bag , the chicken’s already flown the coop ; no use closing the barn door after the horse is gone ; no use crying over spilt milk. Ah , but my having that attitude might just be why my use of the language maybe ain’t so perfect .
I was in Poland before I even met Daughter-in-Law , having dinner with Ada’s friend What’s -his-Name and the girlfriend of What’s his-Name . The girlfriend had at the time a daughter over in England studying at Oxford. The conversation turned to language and I made one of my typical statements of how Americans don’t really care much one way or another if people use correct grammar so long as they can be understood . This woman , whom I ain’t had never met before that nohow , went off on what I considered a decidedly anti-American rant beginning with the words : ” That’s what’s wrong with Americans ” . She did a five minute speech about how Americans don’t care about nothin’ , and she blathered on and on . I thought that it was a bit weird because I had never met the woman before . I wanted to point out the apparent fact that I’m American , but I held my tongue . She knew that anyway , and I let her spew out her inside knowledge of my country , having herself never been to America . Ah , she was proud of her English-educated daughter , of course , so I let her off the hook because of that and kept quiet .
My daughter-in-law explains to me that you know , you cant’say this or that because that’s obviously conditional past perfect , and I had just used this incorrectly as if it were , what ? , unconditional perfect continuous non-denominational superlative . You can’t say that ! That should be clear , right ? It’s in all the books ! Besides , it’s a dangling modifier and participles shouldn’t be cavorting with gerunds , especially not in past perfect ! That might be conditional , though . I’m not really sure . I made my mind up , because of this determined instruction from the English language scholar , to try from now on to be future perfect — if there is such a thing , although I’m a little tense thinking about it .
I began by saying that this post is in honor of my daughter-in-law with the American English advanced degree . She went on to acquire a PhD , by the way , with a different focus , and she speaks at least four languages fluently , but those achievements are well beyond the scope of this post , so let’s stick to the topic at hand . I truly admire someone with such an intense need for knowledge in any field of study who has the smarts to pursue their goal and who goes for it with diligent passion . I thank her for using me as a “native speaker” resource , too . That must have been extremely frustrating for her over the years . Many of my answers are ,” Well, you can use it either way “, when she’s trying to pin down the correct usage of some word or phrase . There’s got to be a one correct usage , right ? But , I try to tell her , Americans don’t care as much about correct usage as she does and they tend to use it either way .
So , maybe that woman with the scholar at Oxford was right after all : that’s what’s wrong with America ! I can live with that .