Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite by June Casagrande

This will not come as a great surprise to anyone who has read this blog, but grammar and spelling are not my strong suites. I went to high school in Central Indiana and the education I received was not exactly first class. (Incidentally, this is also why I was never interested in literature as a academic focus despite my very early love of reading. The teachers made books and literature a chore rather than a delight.) The focus at the time was on creative writing and other useless endeavors not on knowledge of the rules and structure of language. Even the strangely lauded senior composition class was useless as preparation for college term paper writing.

It was only when I got to college and began writing history papers that I was taught how to write. My history professors did this by merciless use of the red pen. They simply corrected my poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling over and over again until some of it began to sink in and the deluge of red ink began to subside a bit. This process was repeated in graduate school.

As a result any sense or skill I might have in writing comes from instinct and “ear” rather than from a formal knowledge of the rules. This not only hampered my writing, but also made it that much harder for me to learn a foreign language. If you understand the structure of your own language you can learn a new much easier. Since I really didn’t understand the building blocks of my own language I had a very hard time picking up those of a foreign one (an added drawback was the pathetic curriculum I had in college).

This background has made me sensitive to issues surrounding grammar and language. I am often on the lookout for books that will help supply some of the education I missed out on growing up. So when I saw a positive review of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies I quickly ordered a copy. I am glad I did. It turned out to be one of those entertaining and educational products so many people promise but so few deliver.

Casagrande, who writes the popular and very humorous “A Word, Please” grammar column for four Los Angeles Times community newspapers, has put together 42 short and sassy chapters that cover everything from shared possessives and splint infinitives to the predicate nominative and subject verb agreement. She also covers potential pitfalls like “Who/Whom,” “To Lay” versus “To Lie,” and the tricky “Affect” versus “Effect.”

Each chapter has a humorous hook that is used to make the reader forget that they are actually learning the rules of grammar. As the title indicates, Casagrande’s goal is to take grammar and language away from the snobs and nitpickers and return it to the everyday folks. She argues that the so called experts intimidate and turn off people whose natural instincts are often correct. Her aim is to give some simple guidelines and pointers so that we can stop worrying about looking foolish and start focusing on communicating. After all, that is the point – effective communication.

She does this with her tongue in cheek and at the expense of the grammar snobs who look down at the rest of us. (She does take a few shots at one of my heroes, William F. Buckley, but I didn’t hold it against her.) A few examples of chapter headings ( will give you sense of her tone and style:

“For Whom the Snob Trolls – “Who”/”Whom” and Why You’re Right Not to Care”

“Snobbery Up With Which You Should Not Put – Prepositions”

“The Comma Denominator – Good News: No One Knows How to Use These Things”

“Hyphens: Life-Sucking, Mom-and-Apple-Pie-Hating, Mime-Loving, Nerd-Fight-Inciting Daggers of the Damned”

“The Silence of the Linguists – Double Possessives and Possessives With Gerunds”

“I’m Writing This While Naked – The Oh-So-Steamy Predicate Nominative”

Grammar Snobs is a great book to take with you while commuting or to read on your lunch hour. The chapters are short and the book is a handy paperback that you can easily throw in your purse or briefcase. I frequently read it while riding the bus to and from work. I will sheepishly admit to sometimes reading it in my “office” at home. If you only have a few minutes to read, this is a convenient book to have along.

I would recommend Grammar Snobs to anyone with an interest in the subject or a desire to learn. Those who already have a strong grasp on the subject will enjoy the humor and skill that Casagrande uses to teach the tricks of the trade. Those who could use a brush up, or who – like me – felt their education failed them, will enjoy learning about the rules and concepts in a lighthearted and friendly way.

And let’s face it there are more than a few bloggers who could use a lesson or two on grammar and punctuation. If books like Eat, Shoots, and Leaves ( ) don’t seem like your style check out Grammar Snobs instead. I have a feeling you will enjoy yourself and you might learn something while you are at it.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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