aardvark, here

by cheri block

When podcasts first became vogue  new media, I began listening to Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl. I downloaded her podcasts from  iTunes. Everything about her business endeavor was hot:  five thousand or more hits a month on a user-friendly website, a book contract, and an appearance on Oprah.

That year, on and off,  I suffered from  insomnia, awaking  at 3:30 am.  Like a thoroughbred filly ready for the Kentucky Derby, I would bolt in a hot flash downstairs, make coffee, commune with the dog, and turn on my computer.

Out of boredom, I suppose, I began answering grammar questions on Mignon’s website in the comments section.  I did this just for fun. In a way,  I felt akin to the Nighthawks,  the radiologists from India reading  x-rays for American hospital emergency room docs, while American radiologists slept.

One day, in March of that year, an  e-mail came into my box from Mignon herself. She liked my answers and my humor. Would I be interested in answering questions for her? Wow! Grammar Girl in my mailbox.

Sure, I said.

Judge Blah said, Are you going to get paid for your time?

I said, No. What else am I going to do at 3:30 am when I can’t sleep?

He shook his head. How bout correct your own papers? You always have a stack of them. Cheri, You are a very busy person, running a business. I don’t know why you would do this.

Sounds fun, I answered.

Mignon gave me the password to her website and suggested that my code name be aardvark, a blue little creature she used in her grammar examples, along with a yellow snail named Squiggley.

May I give aardvark a personality when I answer questions? I asked.

No, she said. I am hoping to write a children’s book and don’t want your take on aardvark to prejudice my ideas.

Ok, I agreed.

So aardvark I became. My compatriot, Squiggley,  quit after a month. Answering a grammar question accurately takes time and sometimes, research.

I learned a lot about people that year. Know-it-alls, Meanies, Braggers, Idiots–they all submitted questions along with the Sincere, the Kind, and the Witty.

For one year, I answered questions. Here is a sample of my little buddy aardvark’s work:

7/14/2007 4:33:04 PM

Hi Paula,

As you know, the word apology can be a singular or plural noun, so aardvark would recommend the following advice:

If someone has apologized for one transgression, you would say, ” I accept your apology,” or “Apology accepted.”

For those individuals (or creatures) who transgress more than once and want forgiveness with a multi-pronged apology, then I would use the plural of apology.

Squiggley, on occasion, has tracked goo into my den and has eaten small pieces of my geranium. So, when he says, ” I am sorry for the mess I left in your den, as well as for the hole I left in your geranium,” I would reply, ” I accept your apologies.”

Please accept my apology if this explanation doesn’t clarify the issue for you! —–

I am not sure how many answers I provided, but during that time, my grammar improved.  Soon, after her book deal, her New York  publisher asked her  to change her website design. The comments section changed too, so I could not reply to an individual question. Aardvark lost interest and quit.

Yes, those days were fun.

But the nights were long.

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in People, Writing and Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to aardvark, here

  1. Douglas says:

    How do you avoid infusing a pseudonym/character with a personality? Even if it is only your own?

  2. Cheri says:

    Good point. I did give aardvark a personality, but he was much more polite and obedient than Cheri.
    He had a little wit and at times, could be quite direct. He tangled with a descriptivist named John a number of times. Aardvark was definitely a prescriptivist…

  3. andreaskluth says:

    Based on this introduction, we are all rooting for aardvark to reappear in some form.

    • Cheri says:

      aardvark’s last hurrah occurred at Mignon’s book signing in San Francisco.

      He disappeared into the his comments section long ago.

      My only consolation is that the nieces and nephews still call me aardvark. 😀

  4. Phil says:

    Is it not true that to teach English-speaking students the rules of English grammar is to teach English as if it’s a foreign language?

  5. Cheri says:

    In many places throughout the United States your statement holds true. No question.

    Some school districts do a good job.

    The real issue is at the university level. Not all English majors are required to take form and usage of English to earn their degree.

    Hard to believe but it is true.

  6. andreaskluth says:

    Do you know that aardvark means earth pig in Dutch?

  7. Cheri says:

    Now I do.

    Good God.

  8. Man of Roma says:

    The example of a perfect post! I loved the whole episode, your style is crystal-clear and gentle. I guess aardvark had a gentle touch too and I agree with Douglas it is probably not possible not to infuse a character with some personality – unless you make it terribly boring. Came here following your link. Ciao bella bambina.

  9. Cheri says:

    Thank you.

    I am trying to fuse several animals with personality in my currents posts. They may be terribly boring! Ha!

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