Today we offer -- at nearly 600 words -- the world's longest newspaper correction.
I made what turned out to be a fairly glaring grammatical error in a recent column here in the Standard-Examiner, and I've been just sick about it ever since. Following my Sept. 3 piece about the bomb-throwing beauty queen, a hyper-alert reader pointed out that I incorrectly used the word "because," when I clearly should have used "that."
I deeply regret the error, and promise I'm going to feel bad about that one just as soon as I can manage to develop even an ounce of shame over my writing skills. In the meantime, I offer my heartfelt apologies to you, the reader; to the members of the Noah Webster family; and especially to Doris Rounds, of South Ogden, who brought the transgression to my attention. Doris wrote:
It seems clear that you intend not to pay attention to my repeated suggestions that "the reason is because" is an egregious error, in spite of the rules governing linking verbs.
I confess I'm disappointed and puzzled by your intractable attitude. Why are you defending by continuing to write what is a clear violation of correct grammar? Is the reason simply that (not because) you're sick of hearing from me and want me to go away?
Egregious? Intractable? What is this, Big Word Week here in the Top of Utah?
Well, Doris, let me begin by saying that not only do I not know the rules governing linking verbs, I didn't even realize there WERE rules governing that kind of junk. I'm just happy when I can avoid using a preposition to end a sentence with.
Curiously, when I explained my egregarious grammatical faux pas to executive editor Andy Howell, and offered my immediate resignation, his response was, and I quote: "Kindly get, of my office, the hell out. Was that grammatically correct enough for you?"
Look, I picked up English the way the majority of us did -- on the mean streets of Anytown, USA. I learned to speak and write, not from studying and applying grammatical rules, but from hearing the language, from reading it.
Oh yes, and from television. Lots and lots of television. Indeed, I blame the original "Star Trek" quest "to boldly go where no man has gone before" for my propensity to split infinitives like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
Seriously, though, I passed countless English tests back in school not because I knew the proper declensions of the various verbular forms, but because I figured that "The dogs are barking" sounded better than "The dogs is barking." I don't imagine I could even begin to explain to you why we say "dogs are" and not "dogs is." I just know we does. Do.
And that's how I write. Using words that sort of sound right together.
You Grammar Nazis need to know what you're dealing with here: My language skills are only slightly above those of Karl Malone. Sure, I do know what a noun and a verb are, but I have to think about it for a minute before I get that whole adverb/adjective thing right. And sorry, but frankly I wouldn't know a gerund or a prepositional phrase if it came up and bit me on the dangling participle.
So, thank you, Ms. Rounds, for correcting me. Please rest assured that your letter was not written in vain.
And the reason I can say this is because I'm pretty sure I won't ever make that mistake again.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.