CConversations with grammarati

~ 30 January 2006 ~

Incredible. Today’s post marks the fourth in 7 days. That’s a record for me. I suppose I just can’t stop writing of late, though don’t expect that trend to continue.

Speaking of writing, I received this email last week from a reader we’ll call “Bobby” (name changed to avoid embarassment to said reader).

Subject: Write it right or shut up, Cameron Mole. Dear Specimen Of the New Age Dumb-Down, Your word freelance should be free-lance. It is a hyphenated word. Never end a sentence with a preposition and never start a sentence with a conjunction. Your sentence, But alas, such skills have I not been blessed with shows your lack of professional writing ability. It should be With such skills I have never been blessed.  Of course, the word blessed here is silly at best. Oh, blessed programmer; sounds religious. Also programming is not a skill; it is a craft at best. It also creates behavior disorders, such as being socially immature. Let a programmer program but never let it choose the words. - Bobby

Now, I don’t mind a good correction when warranted, but when someone takes their craft — in this case, writing — so seriously that they feel obligated to condescend any offenders, I take issue with that.

However, I managed to hold back and send a tempered reply:

Subject: Re: Write it right or shut up, Cameron Mole. Please tell me you're not rashly contacting me for absolutely no reason -- you must have a political or social or economic or absurdly personal agenda of some sort in pointing out these errors. Please find something better to do with your time. - Cameron

Bobby wrote this in return:

Subject: Good for you. Good for you! You responded like a gentleman. The contact was stimulated when observingyour writing skills while you claimed to be a writer. However, writers often do not know about writing, accept that they have a story to tell. - Bobby

My reply? Went a little something like this:

Subject: Re: Good for you. Don't you mean *except* that they have a story to tell?, my exquisite grammar friend? - Cameron

Oops. Guess we all need a little correcting from time to time.



Veer Veer: Visual Elements for Creatives.
Stock photography, type, and killer tees. Genuinely recommended by Authentic Boredom.

1   Jason ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:07 AM

Merriam-Webster tells us, in fact, that “freelance” isn’t hyphenated.

2   Pete A. ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:14 AM

If it’s any consolation, I like the email graphics and typeface :D The person sounds like a Mensa member.

3   Remi ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:15 AM

And so does Wikipedia.

4   JeremyS ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:19 AM

Kudos to you Cameron for being both polite with this guy, and for calling him out on his mistake. I hate it when people like him call people out on their mistakes when they aren’t even perfect themselves. I frequent some forums where people will complain about everyone else’s spelling and ‘grammer’. I love to remind them that it is really ‘grammar’. :-)

And keep on writing Cameron! Don’t stop this fast paced writing. I enjoy reading.

5   JCRogers ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:20 AM

Even I, having been called a “Grammar Nazi” on occasion, won’t go this far. I understand the need for starting a sentence with a conjunction now and then (okay, all the time - it’s just they way I talk, therefore, the way I write).
And as for the whole preposition thing, that’s largely been forgotten. (That started with a conjunction) To quote whoever said it: “That’s the sort of English up with which I shall not put.”
Spirit of the law. As long as it’s comprehensible, who cares?

6   Rob Mientjes ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:30 AM

More on that ending with a preposition: that’s prescriptive grammar. This article on that very topic should explain more than enough.

Oh, and this post was both excruciating and excruciatingly funny. Good thing I’m Dutch, that gives me an excuse when my English sucks.

7   Chris Johnston ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:30 AM

You critic needs to read a wonderfull book entitled The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson in which he devotes an entire chapter to why the grammar rules that we attemtpt to bind English by just don’t work. It is a chapter that every “grammar nazi” should read. The point is that most of the rules that exist for English grammar are taken from Latin which is not a root of the English language since. It evolved from German, therefore, most of them do not make sense. It is why we have so many exceptions in English.

There is no such thing as perfect english. And cudos on handling this nut so well.

8   Dennis ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:34 AM

Way to give it back to him!

9   Chris Peterson ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:40 AM

There’s always someone with far too much free time.

I, for one, think your writing style is fabulously clever. It’s friendly, intelligent, funny and informative. In my book, someone like you with the ability to bring that all together has, and should use, whatever creative license is needed.

10   Justin Perkins ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:41 AM

Ha! Nice one Mr. Mole ;)
There surely is an unspoken rule that states that when people are being overly critical of another, they will undoubtedly be inserting their foot directly in their mouth. This so-called writer is no exception to the rule.

I’ve got to say this person is an ass for saying that programmers are immature and then calling us “it”. Why do people insist on insulting what they don’t understand? It’s a disgusting quality that is more common than not. Whatever happened to the golden rule?

11   Cameron Moll ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:45 AM

Thanks, Chris.

12   angelday true ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:50 AM

Go Bobby!

(Just kidding. What a jerk. BTW, Cameron got some time too. *smiles*)

13   Jake ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:53 AM

How ironic, huh? Good show, and hey … I read your articles all the time, and NEVER even noticed. Call me the “average” user.

14   Faruk Ateş ~ 30 January 2006 at 11:56 AM

Wow. Since when are bloggers or writers in general writing for the mere approval of others, especially highly silly others?

Writing is as much an art as painting or whatever. It’s a personal, creative process, plain and simple. You don’t dictate how someone writes, just as you don’t tell them how to paint or carve a wooden statue.

I’m known as a grammar nazi, but I only pinpoint typo’s out to people when a) I know it actually is a typo, and b) I know they’d appreciate me pointing it out for them (as a helpful gesture). What “bobby” boy did is beyond civil behaviour and goes into “rude” and “crazy” territories. Or would that be cra-zy?

15   Josh Williams ~ 30 January 2006 at 12:05 PM

I’m sorry… I just don’t have time for crap like that. I’m impressed you even replied. *DELETE*

16   dave rau ~ 30 January 2006 at 12:17 PM

Hey, that’s my masking tape. Ha! I recognize it all the time. I’m such a nerd.

17   dave rau ~ 30 January 2006 at 12:19 PM

…And some folks just can’t stop. Correct people on the black & white issues; leave the rest. I’m with Josh, I’d probably just delete that one.

18   Cameron Moll ~ 30 January 2006 at 12:31 PM

Yes, that would be your masking tape, Dave :-)

19   Drew ~ 30 January 2006 at 01:03 PM

I think the guy wants you to hire him as your pit-bull proofreader. You’re supposed to be impressed with his acerbic wit. That we could all be blessed with such skills with which he has been blessed.

20   Jared Christensen ~ 30 January 2006 at 01:12 PM

Wow. I don’t get emails that are THAT idiotic, but, in some small part, I feel your pain (in the neck). ;)

21   reese ~ 30 January 2006 at 01:12 PM

Oh good grief!

22   Jason G ~ 30 January 2006 at 01:15 PM

Programming is not a skill?

Two definitions from Merriam-Webster:

1) the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance

2) a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability

I think both of those definitions apply to programming.

Now, to be fair, I also looked up craft:

1) skill in planning, making, or executing

2) an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill

3) a boat especially of small size

Emphasis mine. :-D

23   Chris ~ 30 January 2006 at 01:35 PM

And God said, “Let there be light…” He then purportedly observed, “It’s really OK to begin a sentence with a preposition sometimes. Now go forth and stop killing each other.”

24   Nathan Smith ~ 30 January 2006 at 02:21 PM

Owned. (Oops, that’s a one-word sentence!)

25   chuck ~ 30 January 2006 at 02:24 PM

Two things came to me as I read this post:

1) there are a lot of stupid people in the world.

2) those tape-adorned scraps of worn paper you’re using to show your email conversation are awesome! totally jealous! :)

26   Tony ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:13 PM

It’s one thing to be a jerk, but you should at least be RIGHT if you are rudely correcting someone.

27   Thomas M. ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:16 PM

You disingenuous English American slacker! Or is that American English … or American who doesn’t know english … or … damn .. anyway…

Cameron, you must be much more careful if you expect to be taken seriously! Next thing you know, someone will catch you wearing white shoes after Labor Day! Let’s hope you don’t weat any tennis shoes outside the set boundries between Memorial Day and Labor Day!

man I hope this mad skillz programmer allows bbcode in his comments…

Keep up the great work Cameron! … Thank you for sharing this little dialog betwixt the valiant Freelance (aka Free-lance) web programmer and the idiot savant english minor.

28   Sebastian Redl ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:16 PM

Oh! My! God!

I can actually imagine pretty well what would happen if I received such a mail:
First, my mouth would drop open, staring in wonder at the concentrated idiocy.
Then, blackness would for a moment obscure my vision.
Finally, depending on my temper, I’d either hit the Delete key so hard the keyboard would break, or I’d start typing a furious reply, only to delete it halfway through when I realize the jerk doesn’t deserve and answer and might just have been out to annoy me anyway.

Hey, maybe you can sue him under that new US law.

29   Chris ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:35 PM

A buddy of mine that has worked for newspapers his whole life conforms to what’s known as the “AP style” of editing. He has pointed out on more than one occation that ending a word with a preposition is the least cared-about writing mistake anyone can ever make.

I’m glad this guy’s high school teacher knocked it into his head but he’s wasting his breath on a mistake that really isn’t considered a mistake anymore.

30   James AkaXakA ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:37 PM

Och, well fended old man!

What particularly interested me was this line: (paraphrased to be hip n quick)
“Writers don’t know the first thing about writing, they just have a story to tell.”

Well, duh! Writers should focus on the story! It’s only the boo-hah modern smarter than thou writers (or any artist for that matter) who focus more on the technique than on the actual work they’re producing.

Oh, and I’d just like to bannish another common myth: Writers don’t nead too spelll propperley either. At all. Editors are more than happy enough to do that for you as long as you produce a compelling story. (Sorry school teachers!) (Note: A very succesful writer told me this once - it is true. Really.)

31   melissa ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:37 PM

yes! love the paper and the masking tape! and im curious how that email even started? i mean, where did he get that freelance was one word? how funny. cheers!


32   Justin Marshall ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:39 PM

I am blessed to read your dialogue. Woops!

I guess all of us have a stick shoved up somewhere beckoning someone to dislodge it every once in a while. I’m just glad I was able to watch this one. It makes me smile.

33   Cam ~ 30 January 2006 at 03:41 PM

“Cameron Mole?”

Any relation to Adrian? :)

34   Cameron Moll ~ 30 January 2006 at 04:23 PM

Melissa - Probably “Full-time freelancing: 10 things learned in 180 days”

35   Blake ~ 30 January 2006 at 07:24 PM

Oh, that’s hilarious!

You’d think he’d have the brains to use spell-check before sending an e-mail on this subject. Wait, if he started this type of arguement, I suppose you woudn’t.

BTW – I’m really digging the paper and masking tape e-mails!

36   Blake ~ 30 January 2006 at 07:26 PM



37   cat ~ 30 January 2006 at 08:01 PM

For my “authentically boring wisdom” … (grins with a smirk thrown in for comfort)

Some of the most interesting blog writers around strangle the english language in the most appalling way.

Even though at times I feel the standards should be brought up (usually around 1am when my own grammar is slipping), I can’t but believe the internet would be a dull place if everyone was so shiny clean.

Mine is awful at times, passable at best.

And time is the problem here … for those of us who are not polished, who has the time to rush to ‘The Elements of Style’ before each post? It’s enough that I’m forced to spell check along the way.

(Is that spell-check, or spellcheck, or spell check these days? Not even my dictionary can keep up)


38   Andrew Sipe ~ 30 January 2006 at 08:18 PM

I’d take it as a compliment at best. Apparently, “Bobby” found your informative strings of thought and consciousness applicable to the necessary constrants of English Grammar. I’ve never really taking much time to appreciate the “finer” points of grammar or how to properly use them. It should be noted that most writers are not professionals with grammer either, that’s why they have editors. If I’m not mistaken, you don’t have an editor on your staff, do you?

39   david gouch ~ 30 January 2006 at 08:35 PM

Rudeness is bad. Uninformed rudeness is bad and good for a laugh. That’s what I took away from this.

Those using this to celebrate their own disregard for grammar are missing the point.

40   Adam Wright ~ 30 January 2006 at 09:46 PM

Surely that should be ‘my exquisite grammarian friend’?

41   Piers Morgan ~ 30 January 2006 at 10:07 PM

I bet you grammar- and spell-checked that final reply at least 10 times.

Must not f*** up… Must not give him more material… Must not give him easy response…

Well done for keeping your head. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

42   Cameron Moll ~ 30 January 2006 at 10:52 PM

Touche, Adam.

43   Pierce ~ 31 January 2006 at 02:06 AM

Hey, wait. Maybe he’s asking that you “accept that they have a story to tell”.

I know it makes no sense contextually, or at the very least runs contrary to what he was just saying, but it does make sense grammatically. Otherwise, wouldn’t he have written “except when they have a story to tell?” Maybe he’s not guilty of grammatical errors, just giant logical inconsistencies.

44   fondue ~ 31 January 2006 at 02:26 AM

*Sigh, this must be the hardest part about having such a well known and popular blog. you get to hear the rebuttal and other wise unwarranted comments of faceless opponents.

i on the other hand am not a blogger, i dont care to be, nor do i think that i have that much to say that would deserve a blog. although its funny that i find myself here everyday, reading your knowledge that you bestow on us, looking forward to your articles and witty humor. there is only one blog i read, and Cameron Moll, this is it.

thank you once again.
.singed all of your beloved fans

45   Adam Khan ~ 31 January 2006 at 03:12 AM

This blog is way sycophantic. The email was not worth a reply. The correspondence was not worth a post. The post was not worth a comment, let alone 44 of them. And yet, here I am, writing the 45th.

46   Ryan ~ 31 January 2006 at 03:45 AM

I like to reply with: Yawn.

It infuriates those like our dear Bobby.

47   Lonnie ~ 31 January 2006 at 09:02 AM

I do not think there very many people who speak or write perfect English. Who wants to live life like that besides uptight ‘writers’ or underappreciated educators? Has anyone ever read a legal document? They are exhausting.

My suggestion is write what you have to say to best of your ability and make sure your personality is reflected in your writing. I can almost gaurantee that a person with a reasonable level of intelligence will understand what you are saying.

The emailer made the biggest mistake of making a grammatical error while correcting someone else. What a loser….

Programming is not a skill? Are you kidding me? It’s a skill and a craft…some might even call it art.

Great post!

48   James ~ 31 January 2006 at 12:58 PM

In tenth grade, my teacher claimed that it was unprofessional and grammatically wayward to begin a sentence with “it.” Good writers simply didn’t do so.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I quoted in reply.

49   Aaron Martone ~ 31 January 2006 at 02:50 PM

The funniest thing about this is that Bobby wouldn’t DARE speak in the manner he addresses you with in person. People like this often use the anonynimity of the internet as their social shield, allowing them the grace of being as tact as they’d LIKE to be, without resorting to use the nettiquette he SHOULD have.

Ok, that’s too many big words for me. I’m leaving the writing up to Cameron.

My only beef with your site? Put your mouse cursor in this box when writing a reply. Now tab. Oops. To the top of the page I go, rather than to the preview or post buttons below. TABINDEX bro! ;)

50   Tom Oakes ~ 31 January 2006 at 11:59 PM

I cannot believe you didn’t light him up for misspelling your name.

The important thing to consider is the net effect of this correspondence: this guy looks like a brash idiot with not enough real work to do.

While I understand your choice to anonymize him (that’s right, anonymize), I think we’d all feel better if we knew his email address. Maybe you can coordinate some type of “leak” through one of your high-profile blogger friends.

A NOTE TO BOBBY: Weigh In!! We’re talking about you!!!

51   shane ~ 01 February 2006 at 02:57 AM

I suppose Mr. Bobby needs to remove the plank from his own eye??? And yes that sounds religious. And yes I started two sentences with an and.

52   Veerle Pieters ~ 01 February 2006 at 03:53 AM

People like Billy are called antf***ers in Belgium and I had the pleasure of meeting them too :o)

53   sam grigg ~ 01 February 2006 at 10:24 AM

From Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a terrific book that should be read by all who write:

Severely prescriptive grammarians would argue that, since they were taught at school in 1943 that you must never start a sentence with “And” or “But”, the modern world is benighted by ignornce and folly, and most of modern literature should be burned

54   Joel ~ 01 February 2006 at 10:15 PM

Dear Billy,
Say hello to Pugin for me while you’re in the 1830s.

This sentence no verb. ;D

55   OC ~ 02 February 2006 at 11:07 AM

I once wrote an article for a South African publication and got a lot of bad response by a couple of “language experts” for two grammatical errors. The horror of public critisim. However, what people seem to miss is that good advice has no right or wrong way of expressing same. What counts is that the message comes across. And that it works.

56   Kev ~ 03 February 2006 at 12:48 AM

From an early poster:

‘To quote whoever said it: “That’s the sort of English up with which I shall not put.”’

The credit for that little beautie lies with Winston Churchill, an uttering he completely failed to live down.

57   David ~ 04 February 2006 at 01:04 PM

Wow… quite incredible. It’s good to be correct, but some people take it WAY too far. Also, he made an error in his first letter - the O in of shouldn’t be capitalized - a preposition in an otherwise capitalized line shouldn’t be capitalized.

Good job putting up with him Cameron!


58   JaX ~ 05 February 2006 at 04:07 AM

Hey I’m looking foreward to seeing you at @media 2006 =)

59   KarmaDude ~ 06 February 2006 at 04:24 PM

Looks like Bobby got a little taste of karma! Hahaha, that was funny, I wonder if he will respond to that response?

60   Ian ~ 08 February 2006 at 01:46 PM

Pure gold, man. What a great read. :) I definitely tend to have a more strict sense of grammar, myself, but it’s largely evolved from a set of “best practises” I’ve learned over the years. As for the whole preposition thing, beginning a prepositional phrase with a preposition is usually a good way to maintain clarity, but as Churchill’s famous example demonstrates, it’s not always the most clear option. I’m of the opinion that it should really only be required if the word immediately following the preposition is the same preposition. (e.g. “… in in…”)
But generally speaking, getting the message across is the most important thing. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns. :)

Oh, and was that Optima you used as the typeface in the emails?

61   Robert C. ~ 08 February 2006 at 04:38 PM

(I am not Bobby.) Cameron, you responded with admirable, even incredible, restraint. Even if Bobby were right-on with his grammar prescriptions, that’s no excuse for writing an intentionally insulting email to a perfect stranger. The original email is so insulting that I almost can’t believe it’s real. That’s never appropriate, and is a more important mistake than your respective grammatical errors. Maybe public excoriation will teach Bobby to show a little more class in the future.

62   Rocketeer ~ 09 February 2006 at 04:16 AM

You mean:

“The farce of that dim-witted personage!”


63   Cameron Moll ~ 09 February 2006 at 06:34 AM

Ian - Yes, Optima.

64   Jason Gaylor ~ 13 February 2006 at 04:21 PM


65   P.J. Onori ~ 13 February 2006 at 05:52 PM

Yikes… That’s some seriously unwarranted hostility.

66   Joe Clay ~ 13 February 2006 at 08:35 PM

I don’t know if it has been mentioned yet, but ending a sentence with a preposition is NOT erroneous.

There’s a guy named Paul Brians, an English professor at Washington State University, that explains this. Go to the following link and look under non-errors at the bottom of the page. He also has many other interesting things on his site, such as a list of commonly misheard phrases.

67   Levi Nunnink ~ 20 February 2006 at 09:31 AM

That’s one of the more surreal conversations that I’ve read in a while…

68   Ruben ~ 22 February 2006 at 02:25 PM

I would love to read a blog by an anal grammarphile!

69   Natalie ~ 24 February 2006 at 07:12 PM

I think I have been a recent target of Jeremys correction of the word “Grammar”, when writing an article about “Grammer” on my own blog. Guys like the email writer miss the point of language, it is fluid, my point is spelling mistakes and bad grammar are just fine as long as everyone knows what you’re talking about. A lot of people can’t master that though… Hense the need for some advice sometimes (even if some things are spelt wrong). I love how impassioned people are about grammar or lack of it though :)

70   Dan D. ~ 25 April 2006 at 08:43 PM

I think Bobby was the kid that always got hit in Dodgeball. Dodgeball is one word, right?


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