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Boomer Grandpa: Working to not torture words 10,000 ways

January 4, 2019
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Columnist Loren Else’s report cards remarkably included C’s in English, yet today he’s a professional writer.

Ever since I started writing this column several years ago I have attempted to improve my proficiency to write and correctly use the English language. If not for my wife and tolerant editors at the Post Bulletin, I may have been booted out some time ago.

My wife corrects my verbal grammar just about every day. She is a member of the loosely organized secret society known to many as The Grammar Police. You might think that would annoy a guy like me, but we have come to an agreement. I don’t mind. I have asked for her help to aid me in correcting a few of my flawed speech habits.

A couple of years ago I was in an antique store and I couldn’t resist buying a set of booklets titled “A New Self-Teaching Course in Practical English and Effective Speech.” It was in very good condition and the booklet lessons were stored neatly in a box. I paid $5 for it.

The copyright of the course was 1930. The cost of the curriculum at that time was $7.50, according to a flyer in the box. That seemed like a big investment during the beginning of the Great Depression. Throughout this column I will list some of the course statements:

Lesson One: Our language today contains six hundred thousand words, of which most of us use only two or three thousand.

I’m guessing I don’t use that many.

I certainly remember my high school English teacher. Mr. Nobel MacVey was a caring teacher who passed away many years ago. He took a special interest in students who needed some additional assistance and were open to help. I needed some assistance and he gave it to me.

He continued to keep in touch and encouraged me even after I departed high school for college. A couple of times when I returned home from college I would stop in to see him and thank him for his support.

Lesson Ten: There is a large group of words that most Americans “torture ten thousand ways” as English poet John Dryden puts it.

Guilty, as charged!

Can you remember; nouns, pronouns, adjective, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, verbs and even interjections? Can you remember studying for spelling tests? I think I can picture myself diagramming a sentence in front of the class on a chalkboard, oh, maybe around 1968. I’m sure I didn’t volunteer, so Mr. MacVey must have seen me glancing out the window.

Certainly one of the questions we asked in school, as did our children and now our grandchildren was, “Why are we studying this subject?” We felt it was something we would never use. Certainly English was not one of those subjects. We indeed use this subject matter forever.

Lesson Twelve: We all know that certain persons spell correctly without seeming to give the matter much thought, while others, in spite of a great deal of effort, find it almost impossible to spell with any degree of accuracy.

I’m average, I can spell OK.

This job as a columnist has been rewarding. I have had the pleasure to tell the story of many extraordinary individuals along with composing accounts of the life and times of the baby boomer generation.

I have learned a great deal, improved at this writing gig and have a real purpose to write positive stories.

Some of us wish we could talk to a teacher one more time. If I could, I would enter a classroom that I remember well and say with a smile, “Mr. MacVey. Can you believe it? I’m a writer.” It’s possible he would fall right out of his chair.

Lesson Fifteen: Keep your dictionary near you, so that you may consult it quickly and easily.

I’m good with that. I also have a pretty member of the Grammar Police at my side.