I am a coffee snob. I am a chocolate snob.
And when it comes to grammar and punctuation, I am an annoying snob.
I am one of those people who can ruin a good outing by complaining about improperly punctuated signage. Put more genteelly, I have a cultivated appreciation for a properly punctuated sentence and for pronouns in their objective form.
So in my column for today, I am going to extol the virtues of grammar and punctuation. I am going to use words and phrases such as “aforementioned,” “as it were,” and “grammatically speaking.” I am going to use the serial comma. And, as a bonus, I am going to give you a free grammar lesson.
Here it is: “For you and I” is grammatically incorrect because “for” is a preposition and thus takes the objective form of a pronoun. “For you and me” is correct, grammatically speaking. Always.
There. Now that that’s out of the way, I will proceed to signage.
I enjoy a pithy phrase as much as the next person, whether it’s embroidered on a kitchen towel, stamped on a stack of cocktail napkins, or painted on reclaimed wood. For instance, I bought a sign for a sommelier friend of mine that read, “A meal without wine is breakfast.” It’s funny and correctly written, so it passes my test.
But not all signs are so spot-on. I will find signs with misplaced modifiers and participles dangling all over the place, signs that pay no attention to punctuation (witness: “Weekends are a girls best friend”). I find others, such as “Blessed,” “Family,” and “Chardonnay” that apparently have no idea what to do with a phrase and play it safe with single words.
Then I will come across a plaque that’s selling for $24.95, and, while I might agree with the sentiment, I will develop a nervous tic at the sight of a poorly punctuated phrase and will continue exhibiting physical symptoms of stress at the mere memory of it until I am at last compelled to correct it in writing … and perhaps publish that correction, as it were. Take this sign, for instance: “But first coffee.”
Now I ask you, what is first coffee? Is first coffee a drink that is served on a first date while performing first aid for a first-class first impression?
No. No, it is not.
What I want is a sign that says this: But first, coffee. Add a comma and you have created a sign that I can get behind. If you really want me to buy it, you can write this: But first … coffee. That gives me more of a pause, more of an “ah and sip” moment with which to begin my day.
And because my theme today is splitting hairs, I will continue with an example of a questionably punctuated humorous sign: “You had me at merlot.”
This, of course, is a clever and amusing play on the “Jerry Maguire” line, “You had me at ‘hello,’ ” and thus, in my grammatically uptight world, should be punctuated with “merlot” in quotation marks. Therefore, I believe that the sign should be written like this: “You had me at ‘merlot,’” which would naturally cause sales of the aforementioned sign to plummet.
And annihilating sales of signage is not my goal here, for I respect anyone’s right to print words on wood and make a few bucks. I only want to heighten your awareness of signage punctuation to the point that when you pass a poorly punctuated one, you, too, will develop a nervous tic.
Beyond that, my goal is simply to hold your interest in grammar and punctuation enough to keep you watching for my next column, which will be dedicated to the Oxford comma.