The Most Dangerous Game–Of Gourds, Objects of Prepositions, and Serial Commas

When I was in the eighth grade, I read “The Most Dangerous Game,” the classic 1924 short story written by Richard Connell. My English teacher that year, Miss Goggin, a fun woman in her fifties who continually looked for ways to approach topics in an unconventional manner, decided that every student would read the story, and every student would then give a brief oral report on it.

mostdangerousgame

 

“Now, I’m hoping this will inspire each of you to look at the story in unique and different ways,” she said on the cold, gray November morning she issued the assignment. “The last thing any of us wants is to hear the same report, verbatim, over and over.”

Good intentions, perhaps, but on this occasion, Miss Goggin’s instincts backfired.  Of the twenty-five or so oral reports on “The Most Dangerous Game,” nearly all were, if not identical, then close to it.  Even Miss Goggin admitted defeat halfway through.  “This wasn’t one of my superlative ideas,” she said, and then:  “Next!  Kimberly, regale us with your synopsis of the story . . .”  No doubt, Kimberly groaned inwardly as she rose from her chair to give the same report we had already heard a dozen times over.

superidea

 

Thinking about all this now, it strikes me that another very dangerous game, for many people, revolves around English grammar.  Even the mention of the term “grammar” might give some the shivers.  During my eighth-grade English class, it seemed Miss Goggin made it her personal mission to instill in us an appreciation for grammar.  She didn’t want us avoiding it, or letting “the editor handle it.”  One day, she brought in a handful of gourds, using them as props to help diagram sentences.  I can’t remember the specifics of that lesson very well, but I’ll always remember the gourds.  They stayed in the classroom for weeks, and became an ongoing, running joke between Miss Goggin and our class.

gourds

 

One of her pet peeves was the misuse of objects of prepositions, especially when someone made the mistake deliberately in an attempt to speak or write in a “correct” or formal manner.  She hammered this home so many times, I doubt I’ve used a subject, rather than an object, of a preposition since!  “Don’t ever say, ‘Between you and I,’ she instructed on multiple occasions, often punctuating the proclamation with a firm shake of the head or even a shrill sound that wasn’t quite a scream, but awfully close.  “Or, ‘for you and I.’  Prepositions take objects, not subjects!  Take away the ‘you.’  Would you say, ‘For I‘?”  And then she would pause for dramatic effect.  Point taken.

objectpreposition

 

I remember her lessons fondly.  Her “Most Dangerous Game” fiasco notwithstanding, Miss Goggin’s ideas hit much more often than they missed.  Her class was always lively and interesting, and I discovered, even then, that I was the odd sort who enjoyed grammar.  Grammar is a building block, a collection of tools–a chisel here, a hammer there, perhaps a paintbrush and a socket wrench over there, a few inches to the left.  Used properly, the tools can polish and hone prose, cleaning it up and pruning it to maximum effect.

hammerchisel

 

But it is a “dangerous game,” indeed.  On Fridays, I tutor writing at a local college.  And when students come to me with their first drafts of essays and term papers, they invariably say, “Can you check it for grammar?  I don’t do grammar!”  I gladly go over the nuts and bolts with them, and hopefully the effort is worthwhile and helpful.  But I tend to believe most students aren’t absorbing the grammar lessons all that much.

nutsandbolts

 

“See, here, it looks like your professor is using the style that calls for serial commas,” I said to one student just last month.

“Serial commas?” she said.  “Is that, like, serial killers or something?”

serialcomma

 

************

There is no doubt about it.  Grammar is, for many, the dentist drill of the writing trade, the necessary evil that, if not mastered, at least needs to be understood and properly applied.  It isn’t as exciting as literary symbolism, alliteration, powerful imagery, or multi-layered characters who grab the reader’s attention and never let go.  And, it may be argued, it isn’t as important, either.  Certainly a raw talent can be honed; breathtaking prose that inspires and awes, yet is littered with technical errors, can be smoothed over and perfected–and surely will garner more praise and attention than a grammatically flawless but uninspired and wooden piece.

dentistdrill

 

Good grammar does not guarantee a good writer.  But it goes a long way toward making a good writer better.  Additionally, when is it okay to break the rules, as it were, and use sentence fragments, split infinitives, end sentences with prepositions, and so on?  The answer is, in my eyes, often!  Even so, knowing the rules helps us to see when it’s appropriate and advantageous to break them.

grammargorillas

 

It would be foolish to believe that many people will ever truly enjoy English grammar.  The endless rules, exceptions to rules, and various styles and usages are enough to make anyone’s head spin.  I suppose it helps when you can look back at an old teacher from your childhood who some way, somehow, made grammar fun.

So, thanks, Miss Goggin!

You made “the dangerous game” of grammar a gourd-filled and lifelong adventure.

lifelongadventureend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

42 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. laurelwolfelives
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 18:31:33

    I ain’t go no idea what “your” talking about here….where’s my correct button at? LOL
    I could hardly finish typing that sentence.
    This post took me back to my grammar school days. 🙂

    Reply

  2. Ritu
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 18:33:34

    It’s great to see a teacher who taught grammar in a way you remember it! !!
    Of course grammar is important. .. but grammar nazis do my head in, lol! And I’m definitely a serial comma user!!!

    Reply

  3. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 19:17:43

    This reminds me of my 5th grade teacher, Sister Placid. She was anything but composed when she made a game of diagraming sentences. No participle will ever dangle again. Not on my watch. Great post Mike!

    Reply

  4. jjspina
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 19:30:09

    Nicely done, Mike! You must be an excellent teacher who keeps his students entranced. Miss Goggin sounds like she was an exceptional teacher from whom you learned everything you know about grammar. Blessings & Hugs!

    Reply

  5. feralc4t
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 20:11:19

    Grammer? That was my mums mum.. I will stick to posting photos 😀

    Reply

  6. Kathy Lauren
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 20:47:00

    Oh, shivers. Grammar.

    Reply

  7. rosiebooks2009
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 21:27:16

    I never knew they were called serial commas – excellent. Back in the Middle Ages we were taught that commas separated single items in a list (unless the items were in themselves phrases, in which case you used semi-colons) except for the final two items, when you used ‘and’. (I believe there is a contentious item called the Oxford Comma which is, shockingly, a comma inserted before the ‘and’.) It was also explained that commas delineated a sub-clause: if you could airlift the section between the commas and the sentence continued to make sense, the commas were in the right place.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 29, 2016 @ 17:40:25

      I really enjoyed reading your comments here.:) I am one of those people who loves a good discussion about the art of commas! Commas are very versatile creatures–perhaps too versatile, which is why they can, and do, cause so much consternation for so many people!

      Reply

      • rosiebooks2009
        Mar 29, 2016 @ 18:51:01

        It’s just nice to be able to even mention punctuation nowadays, even to wax somewhat lyrical and nerdy about it. I like commas too, and semi-colons, and colons…

  8. Today, You Will Write
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 21:58:13

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    English teachers and grammar…you’ve got to love them!

    Reply

  9. Today, You Will Write
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 22:01:02

    Awesome people in deed, my friend. Awesome people…if not for the love of storytelling, then for making you think more about what you read, and having you figure it out. Great post, Mike!

    Reply

  10. Teagan Geneviene
    Mar 26, 2016 @ 22:15:59

    Well done, Mike. You painlessly provided a grammar lesson. 😀
    My 9th grade English teacher focused a class on several stories, including The Most Dangerous Game. He praised different points of each book — as we all yawned. Finally he came to TMDG, and ripped it to pieces, telling us what poorly done drivel it was. That was the only story in the group the class liked. His explanation of why it was a “horrible” story is with me still. However, I still like the story! Mega hugs!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 29, 2016 @ 17:37:11

      Thanks so much, Teagan! And isn’t that the way it would go?:) The one story the teacher doesn’t like, the class does! That’s very telling, and hopefully more teachers are taking note of things like this and offering stories their students can actually relate to an enjoy . . .

      Reply

  11. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Mar 27, 2016 @ 02:52:15

    You were fortunate to have a teacher like Miss Goggin. Good story Mike.

    Reply

  12. Mary Cathleen Clark
    Mar 27, 2016 @ 03:40:15

    My seventh-grade geography teacher read my class that story. She’d use the last 10 to15 minutes of the period reading to us.
    And I loved English…could diagram a sentence that required an entire page.

    Reply

  13. Ste J
    Mar 27, 2016 @ 10:00:48

    Blimey teachers that teach in an interesting way, that is a rare thing indeed. I always feel confident on grammar until I posts like this and realise I probably know little, I swear we didn’t cover half of this in school.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 29, 2016 @ 17:34:16

      I actually discovered that, too. For all of Miss Goggin’s great lessons, there was much we didn’t cover in her class. And when I got to college, I realized there were many, many things about grammar I had never even heard of. Where to place a semicolon after a closing quotation mark? (Inside or outside the quotation marks?) Or a colon? Or . . . my head was spinning. And I learned many of the rules the hard way, by professors deducting points from my essays!

      Reply

  14. Karina Pinella
    Mar 27, 2016 @ 14:02:47

    You were lucky to have such a determined teacher. You’re right, grammar is a challenging one for all but it’s great when someone can make it fun so it is not only easier to learn, but remember as well!

    Reply

  15. Nicholas Conley
    Apr 01, 2016 @ 15:16:24

    Awesome post. “The dentist drill of the writing trade,” haha… I’ll have to quote you on that in the future.

    Reply

  16. Nena
    Apr 02, 2016 @ 04:28:23

    It is a dangerous game, isn’t it? Great post;) I also wanted to stop by and let you know that I recently moved to a self-hosted site and the following is the latest post:
    http://www.younfolded.com/2016/03/20/younfolded-temporary-maintenance/

    Reply

  17. Stephanae V. McCoy
    Apr 06, 2016 @ 15:29:07

    Great post Mike. “I don’t do grammar!” gee, I wish I would have had this option way back when.

    Reply

  18. Ipuna Black
    Apr 23, 2016 @ 20:56:52

    I always love your writing, Mike :).

    Reply

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