Ten quick grammar lessons from The West Wing

If you want to write well in any capacity, professional or otherwise, you should watch The West Wing.  Hell, you should watch it over and over again, scrutinize, memorize, take copious notes and write countless essays on its tropes and its impact on the human psyche.  Rarely, if ever, has there been a series so in love with the peculiarities of the English language.  Truly – few writers can turn arguing over grammatical construction into entertaining television.  Not lost is the irony that if Aaron Sorkin were inclined to participate on Internet message boards, he’d definitely be considered a grammar Nazi – in the best sense of the word of course.  Presented then for your perusal, ten useful takeaways to pin to the office wall for reference whenever needed:

  1. Unique means one of a kind.  Something cannot be “very unique.”
  2. Nor can something be “extremely historic.”
  3. Alliteration can make a reader need an avalanche of Advil.
  4. It’s not “attorney generals,” it’s “attorneys general.”
  5. Writing your sentences, dangling modifiers should be avoided.
  6. “Hallowed” is not spelled with a pound sign (#) in the middle of it.
  7. Pregnancy is a binary state, you either are or you aren’t.
  8. “Frumpy,” onomatopoetically, sounds like what it is.
  9. No one knows what “redoubtable” means.
  10. The fourteen punctuation marks in standard English grammar are:  period, comma, colon, semi-colon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe, question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, brackets, parentheses, braces and ellipses.

The most lasting lesson, however, may be that fundamentally, it’s not a bad thing to want to appear smart, and that there is virtue in forever trying up your intellectual ante.

Break’s over.

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4 thoughts on “Ten quick grammar lessons from The West Wing”

    1. I know my writing has improved a great deal – dangling modifiers and all – by listening carefully to how his characters speak; not only what they say but how they say it. I do not believe anyone can touch him when it comes to dialogue. Although, David Seidler’s work on The King’s Speech was quite impressive too.

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