Once again it’s National Grammar Day, a day when ordinary citizens grab red pens and correct other people’s grammar (they correct spelling on Dictionary Day, punctuation on National Punctuation Day, and pronunciation on Talk Like a Pirate Day).
Even if you celebrated National Grammar day last year or in 2010, you must celebrate it again today. Most important, or most importantly, if you live in a state that is adopting the Common Core, you are required to take the National Grammar Day Quiz today. If you took the National Grammar Quiz in 2011, you must retake it, because those scores are no longer valid.
The 2014 National Grammar Day Quiz
Directions: You have twenty (20) minutes to complete this test. In some cases, more than one answer is correct. You are to choose the most nearly correct answer. Send your answers, complete with explanations, by clicking “Add Comment” below. Winners of the National Grammar Day Quiz will be entered in a drawing to win a lo-res graphic of this year’s National Grammar Day t-shirt.
1. William Strunk, whose grammatical advice lives on in The Elements of Style, sometimes referred to as Strunk and White, counseled, “Omit needless words,” yet he told his students everything three times. Strunk was
- just making sure the students who hadn’t heard him the first two times finally got the message.
- desperate to fill class time.
- suffering from OCD.
Omit needless words, rule 13 from the 1918 edition of Strunk's Elements of Style
2. George Orwell says, “Never use a long word when a short one will do” and “Never use a foreign phrase...if you can think of an everyday English equivalent” (“Politics and the English Language,” Horizon, April, 1946, p. 264). This echoes the advice of Henry and Francis Fowler: “Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance” (The King’s English, 1906. p. 1). Orwell didn’t footnote the Fowlers because,
- the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.
- his research assistant didn’t know that sources need citations.
- he found it in Wikipedia, so he figured he could just copy it.
- ignorance is strength.
Above: rules from Fowler and Fowler, The King's English, 1906. Below: Rules from Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946.
3. Orwell includes the passive voice among the “swindles and perversions” of modern writing but uses the passive to condemn the construction: “The passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active” (“Politics and the English Language,” p. 256). Orwell did this
- because that way he could use the long word, preference, instead of the short word, prefer.
- because he confused the passive voice with the past tense.
- to disguise the fact that fully half the words in that 12-word sentence are foreign words.
- because hiding behind the passive is less of a swindle and perversion than hiding behind a pen name.
4. According to the Texas State Board of Education, which of these statements cannot appear in a grammar book used in that state:
- Language change is a theory, not a fact.
- Humans are responsible for language change.
- When Adam names the animals in Genesis, he also names the dinosaurs.
- Government should not tell people who they cannot marry in any language other than English.
Adam names the animals. Did he also name the dinosaurs?
5. Which of these is already the law?
- Federal law mandates that all departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Internal Revenue Service, communicate with the public in plain English; but there is no penalty for violating this law.
- It is illegal to text on National Handwriting Day.
- In the United Kingdom it is illegal to tweet anything grossly offensive, obscene, or menacing.
- Fines for multiple negation double in construction zones.
6. Hamlet said that National Grammar Day is “more honour’d in the breach than the observance.” He means,
- We should take National Grammar Day seriously instead of ignoring it or making jokes about it.
- Too many people end National Grammar Day with a preposition.
- It would be best to forget about National Grammar Day and do something that’s actually important, like wash your hair.
- Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
7. Which of these is not a rule of National Grammar Day?
- If you are bilingual, you must celebrate National Grammar Day twice.
- Strict observers must give up all forms of the verb “to be” for 24 hours, starting at sundown the night before.
- If you are ultraorthodox, every day is National Grammar Day.
- Break any of the rules of National Grammar Day sooner than say anything barbarous.
8. Which of these statements best captures the meaning and spirit of National Grammar Day?
- On National Grammar Day, grammarians leave coffins filled with their native soil and go abroad correcting signage.
- No National Grammar Day observance is complete without a sentence diagramming party.
- Even English teachers make mistakes
- On National Grammar Day, everybody wants to be correct, but nobody wants to be corrected.
- It’s National Grammar Day, not National Pedant’s Day.
Extra credit: For a chance to raise your score, and maybe win this lo-res graphic of the Grammar Day t-shirt, in twenty-five words or less, answer the question, “Which part of speech are you?” Entries will be judged on the basis of neatness and aptness of thought. In case of a tie, no duplicate prizes will not be awarded.