I fly into a frenzied rage over bad grammar and punctuation. Three other people in the world today feel exactly the same way I do. The rest don’t seem to give a rat’s ass. Before anyone horns in here, let me hasten to add that I know my own grammar and punctuation is not perfect. But only the three other people and I know that, so it’s not high on my list of worries.
My daughter is well aware of my low boiling point in this matter. Nevertheless, she brazenly slaves away at a Ph.D. in English. A couple of weeks ago, she informed me that the Chairman of the English Department at a University that shall remain anonymous insists that it’s correct to “feel badly” about something. I had been drowsy from an afternoon nap when she called, but this news drew me upright and I yelled “What?????!!!!” so loudly that the cat jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. Compared to this, my past reactions to news from Tara about being rear-ended, having her identity stolen, being rear-ended again, being laid off, etc. have been practically disinterested. I had a pleasurable rant over the entire issue and was feeling positively vibrant with energy by the time we hung up.
Today, neighbor Glo let us paw through a few boxes of books that she picked up for $10.00 at a yard sale. (I’m such a Californian; I almost said “garage sale.”) One of the books is a real find: A Manual of English, by George B. Woods and Clarence Stratton, published in 1926. People who wrote such books in 1926 are the very people who taught my generation and my parents’ generation how to speak and write, and I highly approve of them. Here’s what George and Clarence have to say about “I feel badly”: After copulas—verbs like appear, be, become, feel, look, seem, shine, smell, sound, and taste—use an adjective if the word refers to the subject, an adverb if it describes the action of the verb. [Note from Sharon: “badly,” for those of you born after my generation, is an adverb, dammit.] George and Clarence then proceed to list some examples of “right” and “wrong” (two other words that fewer and fewer people give a rat’s rear end about):
Right: I felt bad when I saw their great need.
Wrong: He has looked badly for a week.
I was gnawing bitterly out loud on the whole “badly” bone yesterday on our way to the gym. Sheila, who was not an English major but was educated properly a long time ago, was backing me up at every point. However, she is well known for making authoritative pronouncements that don’t make any sense, and she got a bit carried away as she wheeled into our parking spot. “Even James Brown knew how to say it right!” she proclaimed. I’m still laughing.