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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Grammar Girl: The quick and dirty interview

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Forget "Gossip Girl." Grammar Girl is where it's at it is.

Mignon "Grammar Girl" Fogarty is the creator of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, the popular educational podcast about, yes, grammar and usage. And yes, it really is extremely popular.

Fogarty has a new book out based on her podcast, which she will be signing tomorrow at the Georgia Center for the Book. As a grammarphile myself (and someone who's looking for something to do with a B.A. in English), I jumped at the chance to talk to her (via e-mail).

When did you first realize you were destined to be a grammarhound?

About two years ago I was working as a technical writer and editor and realized that I was seeing the same errors over and over again — things such as "that" versus "which," "its" versus "it's" and people overusing "of." I had become interested in podcasting around the same time, and it stuck me that a fun podcast with grammar and writing tips could be useful. I wouldn't say it was as much destiny as it was having a good idea at the right time.

Do you correct people's grammar in conversation?

I don't. I want to keep my friends, and I believe it is more productive to create fun tools like the Grammar Girl podcast and book that make people want to learn instead of making people feel self-conscious or intimidated.

Your podcast, upon which your book is based, has been one of the most

popular on iTunes since you launched it. Were you surprised that so many people were curious about misplaced modifiers and split infinitives and so on?

I was surprised. When I started, the podcast was a hobby, and I never expected so many people to be interested. Some people say the Internet is contributing to an increase in poor writing, so it's nice to also see that so many people are also using my materials from the Internet to improve their writing. All hope is not lost.

As Grammar Girl, what are some of the most common concepts you're asked about?

Even though I'm called Grammar Girl, the most common questions I get are about simple word choice, which if you want to get technical, is considered usage instead of grammar. People have a hard time remembering the difference between similar words such as "affect" and "effect" and "compliment" and "complement." I try to give people fun, memorable tricks so these "dirty words" are easier to remember.

Did you find my use of the passive voice in the last question problematic?

No.

What's your favorite grammatical error?

These days my favorite error is when people use "literally" to mean "figuratively" because there's a hilarious cartoon about it in my book. Aardvark (one of the characters I use in example sentences) gets fed up with Squiggly (another character) who keeps misusing "literally," so Aardvark puts firecrackers in Squiggly's ears so his head will literally explode. The self-satisfied look on Aardvark's face makes me laugh every time I see it.

Are there aspects of grammar that you have trouble with? If so, what are

they?

I can never remember the complete conjugation of "lay" and "lie." I always have to look it up, and so far I haven't been able to come up with a good memory trick. I'll keep working on it though.

Mignon Fogarty will be at The Georgia Center for the Book in the Decatur Library Wed., July 16 at 7:15 p.m.

(Photo by Sarah Shatz)

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