The Glamour of Grammar

The Glamour of Grammar sounds like an oxymoron, but there is a link between the two words, says the author, Roy Peter Clark.  He explains:

The bridge between the words glamour and grammar is magic. According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), glamour evolved from grammar through an ancient association between magic and enchantment. There was a time when grammar described not just language knowledge but all forms of learning, which in a less scientific age included things like magic, alchemy, astrology, even witchcraft…

Today glamour connotes everything unglamorous: absentminded professors; fussy schoolteachers; British grammazons with binding names like Lynn Truss; nagging perfectionists; pedantic correctionists; high school students asleep at their desks, stalactites of drool hanging from their lips. Long lost from grammar are associations with power, magic, enchantment, and mystical energy.

I’ve written The Glamour of Grammar so that you can feel the energy and put it to use…

(T)he Glamour of Grammar tries to make grammar useful and memorable.

The Glamour of Grammar is certainly good reading. Weren’t you surprised by the connection between glamour and grammar? Didn’t you learn something new when the author explained they were both associated with magic? And look at the way he writes. He coins a new word, grammazons, a play on the word, amazon, then paints a vivid picture of students so fast asleep in the classroom their lips are thick with drool. He does it in all one long sentence, using semicolons so you can pause at those points and take in the words more easily. It is a long sentence, but – except for the bit about “British grammazons with binding names like Lynn Truss” – easy to understand. You get the picture all right. Even the phrase “binding names” makes sense because the person named is Lynn Truss.

Clearly, this is not a dry grammar book. The author is both informative and entertaining.

That comes with the territory, or profession, you might say.

Clark is a journalist who used to teach English in college. He is vice-president and senior scholar at Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in Florida.

He makes the book interesting by telling stories from his own life. He recalls how he fell in love with words when his mother bought him a thesaurus.

I dove in. Before long I was word drunk, incapable of using a short word when a long word would do. In no time I went from word drunk to word inebriated to word besotted. I became a word tippler, bibber, soaker, sponge reveller, drunkard, sot, wino, carouser, dipsomaniac, devotee of Bacchus.

No longer could you find in my little sixth grade stories words like chew, drew, or screw. Instead, you’d get masticate, delineate, or fornicate. (I didn’t really write fornicate, but I wanted to. I went to Catholic school, after all.)

Now, as a veteran journalist, he sings a different tune. “Take advantage of the short-word economy of English.” That’s the title of one of the chapters in his book. He advises writers:

When a story is powerful, keep the language spare. In English, spare language depends on short words, short sentences and short paragraphs at the points of highest emotion.

He isn’t saying, never use a long word or a colourful phrase. Language needs variety like anything else. But, above all, it has to be intelligible and interesting to the readers.

Like anyone else, I like writing that flows. The words do flow from whatever instrument Clark used to  write this book. It’s good reading.

He is right. There is a connection between glamour and grammar. Language can be magic in a good writer’s hands.

I received an email from a friend, saying it was snowing in Germany.

I was immediately reminded of a poem. I first came across it in a poetry anthology while in school. I didn’t understand every line but the words were like magic. See if it doesn’t make you dream of a white Christmas.


By Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

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