Grammar (& Van Halen & Spinal Tap) - a very popular email

(In April 2014, I did an email on grammar. To my surprise, I got a lot of good feedback on it. Hence even though there aren't many actual tips in it, I include it in these Past Emails. Enjoy.)

What's the connection between rock bands and good grammar? Answer: M&Ms and electricity. Here's why.

Van Halen's M&Ms: grammar matters. It changes meanings ("Put the kettle on Paul"...). Also, bad grammar unnerves readers - "if you can't be bothered to get grammar right", they surmise, "what else have you got wrong?"

Cue rock band story, number 1... when on tour in the 80s, the rock band Van Halen requested a bowl of M&Ms for their dressing room... but with brown M&Ms removed. It was not rock 'n roll excess, but to test promoters' attention to detail. The band had - for that time - unusually heavy kit, so they'd send promoters a contract detailing the supports each bit of kit needed, etc. Plus the M&M clause.

On arrival at venues, Van Halen could instantly gauge promoters' attention to detail simply by looking at the M&Ms. If no brown ones, the band felt reassured, and would settle down to a beer. If there were brown ones, they'd theatrically trash the dressing room ("Rock star excess makes comeback!!"), then scuttle off for a thorough safety check. M&Ms were Van Halen's grammar check.

Or, rather, graM&Mar check. Here's a fascinating 5 minute video of Roth of Van Halen talking about his M&M clause.

Grammar quips(!): I was sent a sign that said: "Grammar: it's the difference between knowing your sh*t and knowing you're sh*t". With thanks to Jeremy for the sign.

Also, here's one from the UK magazine Private Eye: how to soothe grammatical pedants - "there, their, they're".

Avoid random Upper Case (People often use it on Slides). Upper case isn't A lifestyle Choice. Use it When You should, Don't use It when you Shouldn't. It's Distracting to Read, plus creates defined Terms that Change meanings. Spinal Tap is a fictional rock band from a great 80s movie, and as it says in their follow-up book: "A closer look at the itinerary revealed that this was not to be our third world tour but our Third World tour.  And, really, there's not a lot of logistics involved except: 'Where's the electricity?'." 


P.S. If I'm honest, I noticed a pattern to the good feedback for this email: it was from amateur musicians. People that played in bands. The rock-band references obviously floated their musical boats.


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