Grammar posts good and bad

This post started as an irate takedown of “grammar mistakes everyone makes” posts that plague us via social media. This particular one got under my skin not because it gave bad advice, but because it didn’t recognize that errors in the mechanics of written language (punctuation and capitalization) are not strictly grammar. That post came on the heels of this quiz from Huffington Post, which struck me as not the least bit helpful. The quiz had some errors, too, as the commenters pointed out. These were corrected, it appeared, without comment.

But just as I worked up my annoyance over useless or shallow grammar advice, I read two wonderful and practical pieces about American English and how to use it in writing. These posts take on different subjects, but they share these traits: usefulness, clarity, and authority.

And neither takes a scolding tone. As I age, I find I don’t care for the finger-wagging aspect of writing about grammar, usage, and language. I admit to my own smugness and superficiality, but I am older now and I hope I am learning better. Thus, the irate post I started has dissipated. I would rather send readers to language essays that are meaningful and helpful.

Here are the posts I commend:

Bryan A. Garner wrote this week about “The evolution of ‘beg the question’” on his Law Prose blog.

Ben Yagoda wrote in May about common comma mistakes in the New York Times Opinionator section.

I also note that others who write about language have criticized the bad grammar advice that is available online. One of my favorite is from last fall by Jonathon Owen of Arrant Pedantry, “12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Who Writes About Grammar Mistakes Makes.”

Self-aware fore- and afterthought: Of course, I have reminded myself that I chose a sort of shorthand [day-afterthought: I should have written “umbrella term”] for my intended subject when I chose a name for my blog almost a decade ago. Even though I called the blog “Grammar Guide,” I planned to write about usage, mechanics, and all kinds of written language issues. Nowadays, I also write about broader issues in copy editing. Still, the blog is the Grammar Guide because that’s how I branded it. Some readers might find fault with my quizzes, too. They aren’t all about grammar, and some of them probably follow “rules” that others dismiss. I will admit to a slightly schoolmarmish mindset, but I am offering advice, not law or gospel.