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CLINE: Fighting to save proper grammar

I wrote about Jim Wallace and the organization SPELL in July of 2009 in a column that highlighted the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature and its role in promoting proper grammar.

After meeting Wallace, a Hoschton resident and former newspaper reporter and writing instructor, I became an honorary member of SPELL. It included a subscription to the group’s newsletter, which until this year was mailed out on a bi-monthly basis.

But the edition that arrived just before Christmas contained a note saying that might change. Starting this year, Wallace said, the publication will be sent out quarterly with a very real possibility of becoming an Internet-only newsletter come 2012.

Wallace said that unlike the newspaper business, the economy isn’t really to blame. But age might be.

“People interested in English grammar are old-timers,” SPELL’s president said with a laugh. “These days we have teachers who don’t know a preposition from a participle, and they teach English.

“Interest in correct grammar is becoming old-fashioned.”

Wallace said his interest hasn’t waned, but the retiree admits he’s no whippersnapper.

“I’m getting old, too,” he said. “It’s getting to be a hassle for an old guy like me (to produce the newsletter).

“It was (sent out) every two months, but I think we’ll do it quarterly this year. I think the writing is on the wall that after this year we may have to do an online version. If it does, it does. I’m not going to commit suicide if it doesn’t (get mailed) out. It’s fun, but it’s a hassle.”

It’s a hassle Wallace enjoys. But he knows the love of language is a fading pastime. He said in the organization’s “glory days” there were close to 1,600 paying members spread out across the country. That paid membership has dropped to 800.

It’s a small but dedicated group that still enjoys proper grammar in the Twitter age.

“We still have a real loyal core of grammar nuts,” Wallace said. “They’re just people who are in love with the language and hate to see it when sports announcers and news announcers mangle it.

“The overall picture is there’s just a decline in standards for punctuation and grammar. People don’t care about grammar as long as it conveys meaning.”

But as long as the members of SPELL care, Wallace will continue to publish the newsletter in some form. If you share that love of language, or just consider yourself old-fashioned, you can join or learn more about the group by e-mailing Wallace at spellgang@juno.com.

Just remember to use your best grammar.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.