Thank You, Mrs. Gorman

I spoke to my copyeditor over the weekend, and she’s about 80% of the way through Ship of My Fathers. So far, she said it had been a fairly clean draft, even with cross-checking it against the Chicago Manual of Style rules. For that I have my seventh grade English teacher to thank.

Mrs. Gorman’s class was something of a crucible, and while I won’t liken her to any torturer or stormtrooper of old, I will say this. She wasn’t merely the original Grammar Nazi. She made the mold for the original Grammar Nazi. I don’t exactly wake up in the middle of night in the cold sweat of terror, but I do have flashbacks. “And! But! For, Or, Nor, and sometimes Yet and So!” Not only do I remember the words, but the cadence still rings in my ears. I’ve heard from other students she’s had over the decades, and they remember it as well. The most chilling words I ever heard in her class? “We have six minutes left. Let’s drill.”

Now, all PTSD jabs aside, she taught us very well. If ever brainwashing was used for a good cause, this was it. At the beginning of the year, she told us that she would teach us all the grammar we would need to know until our sophomore year. I figured this was pretty ambitious, since that was three years away. Alas, no. She meant our sophomore year in college, seven years into our educational future. A boast, one would think, but in truth she was being modest. I can think of only one or two grammatical rules I have learned since her class, and they are on esoteric subjects like comma usage around dependent adverbial phrases.

And yes, Mrs. Gorman was a fan of the Oxford comma.

We learned grammar from the parts of speech all the way up to diagramming sentences. We had compound sentences, complex sentences, gerunds, compound clauses, infinitives, and so on. When copyediting my own work, I often find myself mentally diagramming complicated grammar to make sure my usage is correct. In programming languages, I found myself falling back on analogs of her sentence diagrams when parsing syntax. Even though my hearing made foreign languages very difficult, I was at least able to make sense of their grammar by comparing their structures to English.

I took her class thirty-two years ago, and I have to say that I still remember almost everything she taught me. I’m fuzzy about the distinction between among and amongst, and I think I capitalize a few things I shouldn’t, but other than that, I’m in pretty good shape.

I wrote her a proper thank you letter ten or fifteen years ago when she was still teaching. Now that I’m publishing books, I think about writing another, but she has since retired. Then again, I’ve also started taking some stylistic liberties, and I fear that if I were to send another letter, I would inadvertently commit the cardinal sin of her classroom. My letter would come back to me with bold red letters proclaiming my failure, “Run-on sentence! C-!”

But even so, thank you, Mrs. Gorman.