I take the 101 most-picked-on grammar and usage choices and look them up in 14 different reference works. The results are surprising, and when they're not, I pad them with stories about pudding shakers and my childhood petition drive to support "Planet of the Apes."
June gives an overview of the book:
When I was a child, one of the major pudding manufacturers introduced something called the Pudding Shaker. I don't recall which brand, but I'm sure it was among the pudding industry's Big Ten -- a group that includes Jell-O, Jell-O, Jell-O, and Pud-4-Less.
The Pudding Shaker consisted of a large plastic tumbler with a lid and was designed to free the masses from the exhausting, soul-crushing process of making instant pudding with an electric mixer. You just put your instant pudding powder and some milk into the shaker, close the lid, and shake. And voila. In no time -- delicious, rich, creamy pudding. Or at least that's how it worked in the commercial. The real-life results looked more like clumpy, runny brown milk spattered on the floor and walls (a mess easily blamed on any geriatric dog). But based on what I saw in the commercials, a bad outcome could only be the result of user error.
As you may have inferred from my story, there was a Pudding Shaker in my home. Which means that someone in my home bought one. Which means that we were a family of idiots.
But we weren't complete, hopeless idiots because unlike hopeless types, we had the capacity to learn. By the time one of the major pasta sauce companies introduced "the sauce you toss" -- a marinara distinct from any other on the market in that it was specially formulated to be mixed in with your spaghetti before you put it on the plate -- I had finally gotten wise. I managed to resist the urge to purchase this product, despite its promise to solve all my vexing pasta problems. Around the same time, I was also able to resist the McDLT -- the hamburger that kept the patty separate from the vegetables until you were ready to eat. By then I was wise, jaded even. And I'd grown all but immune to the threat of hot lettuce.
As you're about to see, some chapter lead-ins in this book are transparent and shameless attempts to lure you into reading about grammar and usage. Other chapters are more succinct and direct, suggesting the possibility that I had more important things on my mind such as the Thursday night "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" lineup or perhaps the demanding task of curling up into the fetal position and sobbing, "I can't come up with anything clever. I'm all washed up!"
But this pudding business has a direct correlation. It is this: I'm sick of being jerked around. And when it comes to copular verbs, also called linking verbs, a lot of us have been seriously jerked around.
Most of us were taught that adverbs modify verbs. But an alarmingly small proportion of us ever learned about copular or linking verbs, which can turn our basic understanding of adverbs on its head. So we have no choice to assume that "I feel badly" is the correct choice over "I feel bad."
Unfortunately, that just isn't so.
To understand the principle of copular or linking verbs, ask yourself: Why do you say "I am happy" instead of "I am happily"? It's because "happy" is really describing the subject "I" and not the action of the verb, right? That's a good place to begin understanding copular verbs, but it doesn't end there.
The most common copular verb is "to be." Many others also refer to states of being or to senses: "seem," "appear," "act," "become," "look," "remain," "get," "grow," "smell," "feel," "taste."
And the rule we've been accidentally yet so conveniently kept in the dark about is this: Copular verbs take adjectives as their complements. Not adverbs.
The dog appears hungry (not hungrily).
The suspect acts guilty (not guiltily).
The haggis smells bad (not badly).
John became angry (not angrily).
Of course, most copular verbs aren't exclusively copular. The word "appears" in the above example describes the dog, so it's copular and takes an adjective. But if you wanted to say that the dog "appears suddenly," it's not copular because you're describing an action -- appearing. Another example, "feel" is copular when describing a mental state, but when you're describing the action of touching and feeling, it's not copular. That's why "I feel badly" isn't always wrong. On the contrary, it could be spot on when describing a bad Braille reader or a clumsy prom date. But it's not the right choice if you're a former ad exec repenting for your past sins. If you're the person who came up with the Pudding Shaker or a manipulative slogan like, "Mayonnaise: The Other White Meat," you should feel bad. Very, very bad.
June Casagrande was born in March and lives in a small house. She wrote a grammar/humor book called "Mortal Syntax" and, before that, one called "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies." She sincerely hopes you buy a million copies of each.
While reading 'Grammar Snobs,' I kept wondering if it was healthy to be laughing so much at a book on grammar. I read the book in one sitting (excluding a short walk with the dog and a few minutes hiding...