A Hillbilly Grammar Lesson, By Jim Comstock
Posted on 06.19.14 by Danny Glover @ 8:34 pm

I have this tendency to become obsessed with unusual characters, both fictional and real. Two that come to mind readily: Bartleby, the scrivener of Herman Melville fame, and John Randolph of Roanoke, an oddball politician from America’s early days whose named resurfaced in the news again just this month.

These days I’m obsessed with Jim Comstock, a “country editor” best known for his “weakly” newspaper, The West Virginia Hillbilly. I remember reading the Hillbilly occasionally as a child, and over the past few years, I’ve dreamed of finding a way to resurrect it online for digital posterity. His legacy deserves more attention than it gets deep in the bowels of a few libraries in the Mountain State.

My periodic but passing interest in “Mr. West Virginia” became a fascination a few weeks ago. That enthusiasm has manifested itself in a fairly successful quest to compile a personal collection of Comstock’s writing.

I now own three signed copies of his books — “The Best of Hillbilly” compilation of his newspaper musings, his autobiography “7 Decades,” and “Pa and Ma and Mister Kennedy.” And just today my wife snagged a small collection of the Hillbilly for me, thanks to an ad I placed in a circular back home. I’m still on the lookout for a good deal on the 50-book set of the “West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia” that Comstock authored.

All of that is context for the real point of this post, which is a nugget I just found in “Pa and Ma and Mister Kennedy.” It’s a hillbilly grammar lesson from the Pa in the book:

“Son, if somebody knocks on that door and you say’s who’s there and the person knocking said ‘It is I,’ just shoot through the door because chances are it is either a social worker, a magazine writer, or a man from Harvard, and they are paid for. No court in West Virginia would convict you.”

Comstock’s books are full of zingers like that, and you’ll probably read more of them here in the future.

In fact, I’ll be writing much more about him down the road. I’m obsessed enough that I recently interviewed Comstock’s son Jay by telephone, and next week I’ll be talking to one of the journalists who worked for Jim Comstock decades ago. If I can’t resurrect the Hillbilly, which actually might annoy Comstock in the after life because in his eyes I’m a “chickened-out West Virginian,” the least I can do is tell Comstock’s story on a blog that he helped inspire.


Filed under: Grammar and History and Just For Laughs and Media and People and Redneck Humor and West Virginia
Comments: None

Why We Home-School, Lesson #43
Posted on 05.29.12 by Danny Glover @ 8:23 pm

We have seen the value of homeschooling in the successes of parents and children from our own community, including 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, who this week will become the youngest person ever to compete in the National Spelling Bee:

Sorina Vlaicu Madison, Lori Anne’s mother and primary teacher, said she and her daughter have no problem eschewing books and academic pursuits if the outside world is more inviting or their minds are tired. That means swim lessons, play dates, time for games like Angry Birds on the Kindle, and visits to an indoor play center called Kids ‘N Motion.

Madison, who teaches health policy at a local university, laughs at the assumption that she has driven her daughter to spelling heights, perhaps by sheer will or intolerance for failure. “You can’t drill a 6-year-old,” Madison said. “You can’t really force them to do anything.”

Lori Anne earned her spot in the national competition by winning the Prince William County, Va., spelling bee. Most of her rivals this week will be at least twice her age.

Lori Anne’s educational success is not unusual in the homeschooling world. Her peer group regularly excels in competition. Here’s just a short list:

  • Evan O’Dorney, who earned $100,000 by winning the Intel Science Talent Search at age 17 — this after winning the National Spelling Bee at age 14.
  • A team of seven students who won the world championship of robotics, a field where homeschoolers often excel.
  • Calvin McCarter, who won the National Geographic Bee at age 10. A few years later, homeschooler Nathan Cornelius won the bee at age 13.
  • Emily Vanasdale, a winner of the National Center for Women and Information Technology Award.
  • Amy Anderson, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior Golf Championship and who surprised the professional golf world by finishing with the lowest score in the first round of the 2011 U.S. Open.
  • NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, the first home-schooled student to win the coveted Heisman Trophy while at the University of Florida

You can read plenty of other success stories at the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association, or just Google the phrase “homeschooler wins” and watch them fill your screen. Students who get their education at home are especially good at winning spelling bees.

(Read previous “Why We Home-School” lessons.)


Filed under: Grammar and Home Schooling and Human Interest and News & Politics and Sports and Technology and Why We Home-School
Comments: None

Educating The Spell-check Generation
Posted on 04.04.12 by Danny Glover @ 2:51 pm

Once famous for its legendary spelling and grammar test, as of yesterday the University of North Carolina’s journalism school is now famous for turning its back on a time-honored, old-school teaching tradition. The school is dropping the spelling part of the must-pass test.

Like many other journalists, I cringed when I read the news at JimRomenesko.com. A journalism school deciding that spelling doesn’t matter in the era of word processors because we have spell check, and this after media organizations have spurned copy editors? Journalists are lowering the standards of the profession so much that we all might as well have unedited blogs!

But as I read the school’s explanation for the change, the decision began to make more sense:

The content of the test came up last fall when several faculty members were talking about the introductory News Writing course, which is where many students first take the exam. In those conversations, I suggested that memorizing a spelling list wasn’t the best measure of competence in our craft. Why not use a set of questions about word choice instead? Other faculty members agreed to the idea.

I am still concerned that entirely killing the spelling portion of the test sends the wrong message to future journalists — that training their brains to spell words doesn’t matter because they can rely on the engineers who build technology to do it for them. But no one can deny that, with the exception of names and other proper nouns, spell-checking tools do a great job of catching misspelled words, whether they are the result of typos or the poor spelling skills of the typist.

On the other hand, spell-checking programs don’t often catch errors in word usage. I can’t tell you how many times a day I have to change “their” to “its,” “it’s” to “its,” or “effect” to “affect.” The words are always spelled correctly, but they are used incorrectly in the context of the sentences. And no matter how many times I correct people, they keep repeating the mistakes.

This tells me that word usage is a bigger obstacle than word spelling in the modern era. The journalism school has recognized a greater need in testing and is adjusting its process accordingly. That strikes me as a good move.

I’m more bothered by the fact that UNC journalism students only need to get a 70 on the word usage and grammar test to graduate. As a journalism major at West Virginia University in the 1990s, I had to score an 85 on a grammar test that included spelling and word usage just to get accepted into the journalism school.

As an editor, I don’t want my writers to get it wrong 30 percent of the time. That just makes my job tougher. If UNC wants to emphasize word usage over spelling in its must-pass test, that’s a legitimate choice. But the school needs to up its grading game.


Filed under: Grammar and Media
Comments: 1 Comment

Another ‘Shcool’ Lesson
Posted on 01.25.12 by Danny Glover @ 11:30 am

We’ve been down this road before on this blog — twice, in fact. Apparently road-painting crews (and our “home-shcooled” son) have trouble spelling the word “school correctly.

The latest example, as reported by Fox News:

An embarrassing misspelling of “school” is gone from the street outside a New York City school building.

Utility workers used heavy machinery to ground up the wrongly placed “H” and “C” in the “SHCOOL X-NG” sign on Tuesday. The correction was made a day after the New York Post reported the spelling error.


Filed under: Government and Grammar and Human Interest and Just For Laughs and Photography
Comments: None

The Newspaper Life
Posted on 01.04.12 by Danny Glover @ 5:35 pm

When I decided to become a journalist, I imagined I’d be working in an atmosphere much closer to this one than the one I’ve known for the past 20 years:

The tools for producing and distributing journalism in the information age are much better than those of yesteryear, but I do long for the days of the “rewrite man” and copy editors. They were the protectors of the art of great writing — a mostly lost art in today’s era of blogs, tweets and text messages, where too many journalists think good grammar and consistent style are antiquated.


Filed under: Grammar and History and Media and Social Media and Video
Comments: None

‘Must Be Able To Work Indecently’
Posted on 10.19.11 by Danny Glover @ 1:14 pm

I know the economy is bad, but is it so bad that people would be willing to consider a job where one of the skills required is this:

Must be able to work indecently, with minimal direct supervision.

I can see why someone who is willing to work indecently wouldn’t want much direct supervision. The job also requires “overnight travel” and a willingness to “embrace diversity.”

One laughable error in word choice makes the ad sound like something from an adult publication, but it’s actually a listing for … a food-safety specialist in Northern Virginia/Maryland. No pole-dancing required.

My guess is that the ad meant to say the employee “must be able to work independently.” Instead, we see what happens when all of the copy editors are downsized.


Filed under: 1980s and Adoption and Books and Business and Grammar and Just For Laughs and Media
Comments: None

‘I Am Home Shcooled’
Posted on 10.11.11 by Danny Glover @ 10:00 pm

Spot-checking the text messages of young children can be great entertainment for parents — or as the shcool kids say, LOL!!!

On the off chance that this was just a typo, we asked our 12-year-old son after seeing the message how to spell “school.” He spelled it verbally just the way he spelled it in the text to his friend. Clearly we need to schedule a remedial spelling class at the Glover Home School.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, he knows we check his text messages randomly. It was a condition for us getting him a phone at such a young age — an open approach that I recommend for all parents.

Anthony also knew I was going to post this snapshot of his mobile screen. He’s hoping it will make him famous all over the Internet. Boys!

The sad thing is that now I’ll no longer be able to poke fun at public schools for this amusing error because our “home shcooled” son is guilty of it as well.


Filed under: Grammar and Home Schooling and Just For Laughs and Parenting and Technology
Comments: None

Living Elitist In Small-Town America
Posted on 08.25.10 by Danny Glover @ 10:39 pm

Amy Hinds, a teacher in Missouri, the author of the blog Living Single in Small-Town America, and a talented photographer, fancies herself a teacher. But by my reading of her latest blog entry, “Really … I Don’t Hate Rednecks,” she has much to learn, too.

It’s clear from the title and lighthearted tone of of Hinds’ essay that she’s not as hostile as most people who make a sport of mocking rednecks these days. But she has an elitist streak that is blinding her to who we rednecks really are.

A stubborn embrace of the Confederate flag does not a redneck make. Neither are sexism nor a contempt for English class the exclusive domain of rednecks. Plenty of highly educated men are chauvinist pigs who can’t write or speak coherently, and whose idea of a good book is the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Ironically, Hinds plans to use her own redneck past to better connect with her students:

I am going to talk about growing up on a big farm, doing lots of farm chores, and how I still basically live on a farm. I’m going to tell my crazy stories about wild animals getting into my house and my having to shoot things like possums and raccoons. I’m going to put pictures I’ve taken of our farm (animals, equipment, etc.) and my niece and nephews dressed up in John Deere and hanging out on the farm as my screen saver for my school computer. Often, my screen saver is projected on the board, so they will see the pictures.

It’s a smart move on her part. Hopefully she’ll learn as much about rednecks this year as they learn from her. It sounds like they all need a good education.


Filed under: Grammar and Hatin' On Rednecks and People and Rednecks
Comments: None

Why We Home-School, Lesson #26
Posted on 03.05.10 by Danny Glover @ 7:57 pm

We think it’s important to teach our children good grammar during the elementary and secondary education years so they don’t look foolish while using bad grammar to protest during their college years.

(Read previous “Why We Home-School” lessons.)


Filed under: Grammar and News & Politics and Why We Home-School
Comments: 1 Comment

Why We Home-School, Lesson #25
Posted on 02.26.10 by Danny Glover @ 7:43 pm

Last week, first lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity in America and “raise a healthier generation of kids.” Today, a pre-teen relative of mine who shall remain anonymous posted this note about his new school to Facebook:

lunch is awesome a snack bar with poptarts, rice krispies, muffins slushies cookies giant soft pretzels frozen treats gatorade & every fri. papa …johns pizza vanilla milk juice any time & 2 differrent meals each day but my school is really old

So our public schools are stuffing kids full of sugar- and fat-laced snacks but apparently not teaching them capitalization, punctuation and other basic rules of grammar. Parents might as well send their kids to a candy store for classes — which may be their best chance for employment if they don’t start learning how to write.

It’s enough to make an enlightened redneck journalist like me scream.

(Read previous “Why We Home-School” lessons.)


Filed under: Culture and Food and Grammar and News & Politics and Why We Home-School
Comments: 1 Comment

Copy Editors: Unsung Newsroom Heroes
Posted on 11.05.09 by Danny Glover @ 9:05 pm

There are many reasons to love the Internet as a news medium — the immediacy, the global reach, the interactivity and the transparency. But clean copy is not one of them.

That is especially true of blogs like this one. Most of us bloggers post our copy online without a second glance, in part because of our rush to be first with the news and in part because copy editing can be a tedious chore. The end result is copy that often is grammatically incorrect, stylistically weak and plagued by typos.

We bloggers need good copy editors — or we need to be our own copy editors.

Alas, the way of the blog appears to be the way of print media in the information age, too. From Editors Weblog:

Media analysts and publishers alike have long debated the role of copy editors in today’s struggling industry. … Various models have been implemented, reducing the traditional three-step article writing process to just two, and thus doing away with [copy editors] entirely. Whilst the financial benefits are apparent, it does beggar the question … as to the effects of such a move on the actual quality of journalism — which, coupled with increasingly tighter deadlines, surely makes for a significant double threat … and something’s got to give.

That commentary came at the end of a piece about copy errors so abundant in a Washington Post sports story that some readers demanded a full refund for the day’s paper. “There is no excuse for such a shoddy product,” one reader wrote. “It’s completely unprofessional.”

Indeed it is.

The Internet has helped improve the quality of reporting in many cases and certainly has added perspective to today’s journalism that has been sorely lacking in news outlets dominated by liberals. But at the same time the Web has hurt the quality of writing.

Readers, many of whom long ago stopped caring about good grammar in their personal communications, want the news now and care less whether the copy is clean. And reporters, long a grammatically challenged bunch, are happy to deliver substance inside a flawed package.

Reader, writer and publisher alike seem to have decided that because you can’t judge a book by its cover, it’s OK to just slap a crappy cover on the book.

That’s a shame. Copy editors are the unsung heroes of America’s newsrooms. They are master craftsmen of the written word, and they have saved many a writer (including this one) from embarrassing moments.

Copy editing is one aspect of old media that needs to be a carryover in this new media era.


Filed under: Grammar and Media and Technology
Comments: 2 Comments

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