That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

The anatomy of the written word


We’ve just rounded 4 weeks in the writing program, and I’m dumfounded how little time I have for writing. Are you shocked? I am. Naïve? Sure, I’ll cop that.

Then again, I guess first year medical students don’t spend their first month of the MBBS program doing heart surgery or sewing on fingers. They begin with physiology, biochemistry, anatomy. Their first touch of a human body is cold, the patient’s flesh pickled with formaldehyde and glistening grey under fluorescent light. The body before them is docile and forgiving when they approach with clumsy latex hands and a sweaty top lip.

And I presume the same is true of the written word: our teachers don’t want to let the fumbly first years get stuck into some serious writing until we know its ass from its elbow.

They have let us get stuck in with scalpels and begin to dissect sentences and learn their technical names and uses. (Scalpels makes it sound more exciting than it actually is. It’s about as fun as alphabetising the dairy goods in your fridge.)

The first thing I learned was how inadequate my education has been. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but it was rather funny to think I’ve completed an honours degree in humanities, had a management career in a university, and here I am scoring 3 out of 15 on my basic grammar test. Shazam!

I’m what’s called a ‘fixer-upper’. And that, my friends, is an ADJECTIVE.


How do you fare in your grammatical knowledge? Do you know your shit, or are you just shit?

24 Responses to “The anatomy of the written word”

  1. TheOthers1

    I’d probably not do well on certain things. Grammar and I only have a passing relationship with one another. There are lots of missteps in our dance.

  2. Felicity

    Although I’m an ardent lover of the written word, my grammar knowledge [and confidence] is sorely lacking….sigh.

    Any “Aha!” moments would be gratefully absorbed.

    x Felicity

    PS: Love today’s quote.

  3. Brismod

    Ah grammar. When I was at uni many moons ago we had to pass a basic grammar test to continue the journalism course. The pass mark was 85% and only a handful of the entire course passed. I just passed but I think I owe that more to studying French in highschool and learning latin roots and derivation in primary school. Anyway, it is hard to edit your own work. A second pair of eyes usually picks up the clumsy errors.

  4. Diminishing Lucy

    I think I am an expert. And I am glad I was taught grammar at school. (So many of my era were not.) Then I realise I am appalling in reality.

  5. Kelly Exeter

    Welcome back Karen!! I am finding it very hard to believe you scored 3/15 in your grammar test though. Are we talking the kind of grammar people just don’t use any more?!

  6. Tas

    I remember being an exchange student in Finland in 1997. Fresh from a not-bad-thank-you-very-much HSC score (yes, HSC…quite some ago then), I remember the other students being tickled by the fact that they scored better than me in English tests. As I explained, I used it. They studied it. Along with Sweish, Russian, French and German…I was not a good language student…

  7. Jess WhoaMamma

    I’ll be the first to admit that my grammar is shite. As much as I love, love, love writing and reading, my grammar would be a Big Fat Fail if I ever took an exam on it. Living in Greece for 3 years, and barely finding anyone to speak English with, has dramatically changed the way I phrase my speech and my writing. You, my gal, have nothing to worry about. You could write a shopping list and it would still be exquisite. Word. x

  8. Kathryn

    I have spent the last 10 years teaching Indigenous kids. A lot, maybe most, don’t speak English. I have had to learn a bucket load of grammar that I just *had* so I could teach them. The more I learnt, the less I realised I knew. I would LOVE to spend an entire semester not looking at the huge big picture stuff but at each teeny tiny word. I am only new to your blog but I can’t wait to see what happens on your journey!! xo

  9. Anna Coates (@greenteantoast)

    I think I’m ok on the grammar front, but mostly just the basics. I still get confused now and then with things, and have no clue about the proper use of things like hyphens, which I use a lot!
    I bet this course will be a real eye opener.

  10. Kirsty@BowerbirdBlue

    I suck at grammar, but love to write. I came from the generation where it wasn’t cool for schools to teach grammar, they were concerned it would stunt our creativity. I think my lack of grammatical knowledge also stunted any chance I had of getting into journalism. All I know is how things should sound from reading lots of books, no rules to draw on. I had a lecturer once tell me that I could not make a rhyme on the coincidence of a suffix. I have a B.A,. but once you get to uni they presume you’ve learnt the basics. I have my mums old grammar book, and tried to teach myself, but it is incredibly boring, I don’t think I’d enjoy playing with the scalpel.

  11. Gill

    Word, indeed – I’m in the shit club. If you scored a 3…well, I hate to think how I would score! I know grammar is supposed to make sure our writing is easy to read but your writing is always reader friendly…and enjoyable, so I find it hard to think of you as a fixer-upper. Saying all that, grammar holds me back as a writer, it fills me with fear and so it stops me from letting go. It’s interesting to hear about your course. I hope you are enjoying it! Even with all the scalpel work. x

  12. Catherine

    I abuse the passive voice like nobody’s business. In fact I probably did in the previous sentence but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. And I’ve tried. I’m so thrilled for you, taking this journey.

  13. Maxabella

    That sign says it all, really.

    I studied grammar at uni level and was lucky enough to actually be taught it in high school in the early eighties (I know!). That said, I’ve forgotten half of it and abuse the other half so I’m still pretty certain I’m shit! x

  14. JJ

    Love the quote and the sentiments.
    But you might want to fix this dreaded apostrophe incursion:

    “…serious writing until we know it’s ass from it’s elbow.”

    Your Friendly Bloggerhood Proofreader 😉

  15. jennifersmart

    When I was learning Italian, I had to buy a book entitled ‘English Grammar for Students of Italian’, because my knowledge of English grammar was so poor I struggled with the technical terms of Italian grammar! But it was reassuring to know that there is a need for such a book, makes me feel better about my grammatical black hole.
    Aside from that, I do hope you’re enjoying your course – fabulous opportunity.

  16. Kymmie @ a day in the life of us

    This post is a crack up!! I always bragged about getting my spelling right and I definitely do not say “disorientated” (pet hate right there!), but I can’t say I’d be great at it, because I’d be speaking from absolute arrogance. I simply do not have a clue.

    But so glad you’re starting from scratch and building you’re (just kidding!) way up!



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