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Interview with Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty

The Grammarist is proud to feature Mignon Fogarty, best known as Grammar Girl with her Quick and Dirty Tips for better writing- a site that has been described as “your friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language.” Mignon is also the author of Behind the Grammar, a podcasting network where she speaks about any number of topics, including business, marketing, podcasting, writing, and life.

Please introduce yourself and provide some background information.

I’m best known as Grammar Girl. In that role, I produce a weekly podcast, write articles for my own website and others, write a weekly e-mail newsletter, and develop digital and tabletop games. I’ve also written seven books about language, including the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Aside from that, I’m also the founder of QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

What is so interesting about language/grammar to you?

I love the way language is tied to history. When you start digging into how words entered the English language in the first place and how words have evolved over time, you often end up reading about historical events such the Normans invading England or the Scots-Irish emigrating to America.

What do you think is your unique contribution to the English language?

I don’t think anything I do is unique. The most common comment I hear is that people say they enjoy the particular way that I write about language—I try to keep it simple and fun and to avoid the judgmental tone that so often infiltrates language discussions.

At a simple level, I believe time is my big advantage. Through the combination of things I do to earn a living, I’m able to think and write about language almost every day, and that seems somewhat unusual outside academia.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the world of language/grammar?

I’m proud of the body of work that I’ve produced over the last eight years. Like the tortoise in the “tortoise and the hare” story, I just keep doing what I can every day, and over time I’ve created a place where people can find the answer to most of their language questions, from common topics such as “affect” versus “effect” to more general topics such as do the minions speak a real language in Despicable Me.


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I’m not sure whether I’ve succeeded, but I also hope that I’ve exposed more people to the idea that although it’s useful to know and follow the current language rules, English is always changing and that’s a fun and fascinating thing. For example, you can love the language without wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth when you encounter Internet memes such as doge speak and “can has cheezburger.”

Do you ever get bored from discussing, thinking about or writing about language?

People do always want to know about the old standards, such as “who” versus “whom,” but I’m able to answer those questions and still keep things fresh.

I don’t get bored because I’m always discovering new things such as why kids talk about “versing” another team instead of playing another team, finding current events that have a language component, answering interesting reader questions such as why “capitulate” and “recapitulate” have such different meanings, finding interesting things from other people such as this video that demonstrates a bunch of British accents in a about a minute, and working on completely new projects such as my iOS game Grammar Pop.


Do you feel that linguistics/language/grammar is a dynamic, ever-changing subject or one that has an abundance of information but is stagnant?

It’s definitely dynamic and ever changing.

Why should anyone be more interested in linguistics/grammar?

I don’t know that people should be more interested, but I think the more people learn about linguistics and English language history and change from podcasts, blogs, videos, radio, and popular books, the more they will be more interested because these are topics that touch everyone’s lives. We all know people with different accents or who use different slang or who have trouble remembering a different rule than we do. And we wonder why. Linguistics answers a lot of these questions that we wonder in passing.

If you could change the way people speak or write what would you suggest? Why does it matter?

I wouldn’t change the way people write or speak. If I could do anything, I’d spend years traveling around the country and the world listening to all the different ways that people speak. It’s a richness of culture that we should savor.

If people want to be more proper, that’s great and they can come to my website to learn the rules they need for formal settings such as school and work, but I wouldn’t presume to change anyone who isn’t already seeking to change

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About Rebecca Engleberg

Comments

  1. Grammar Girl, you are definitely one of my idols!

  2. I love the way Grammar Girl writes clearly about a subject that is the cause of such consternation to so many. I do wish she would revert her former way of presenting her Quick and Dirty Tips on her weblog by writing out her tips and having a link there to a podcast of same. That way we could use two of our senses to better absorb the full impact of her grammar tip of the day.

  3. Jim Burke says:

    I’m an editor for a small e-publishing company. Although I keep the Chicago Manual by my easy chair when I edit, I almost never use it. I just open another tab and call upon the Grammar Girl! Thanks for what you do.

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