Grammar Clinic
with Mary Norris
Offered in partnership with Scholastic
Friday, November 15, 2019

Language is always evolving. What is grammatically wrong today could be standard usage a hundred years from now. In this master class, participants will learn what a legendary copy editor thinks about grammatical issues large and small: What’s grammar for? Is incorrect usage ever okay? Can participles sometimes dangle? What do grammarians make of tweets and texts? Is the Oxford comma a good thing or just pretentious? When does one use “who” instead of “whom,” “that” instead of “which,” a colon instead of a dash? Should we trash the semicolon? Who gets to decide these things, anyway?

Mary Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978 and was a query proofreader at the magazine for twenty-four years. She has written for the magazine on topics ranging from her cousin Dennis Kucinich to mud wrestling in Rockaway, but is best known for her pieces on pencils and punctuation. She’s the author of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen and, more recently, Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen.




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Photos by Pat Swain.


“That’s the power of the Academy for Teachers: leaving the sessions with lots of food for thought and deep questions.”
Christopher Barley, Essex Street Academy



Assigned readings:

Wallace, David Foster. “Authority and American Usage” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays.  New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 2006. 66-127.

Fowler, H. W. “Jargon,” “Foam and Froth,” “Flotsam and Jetsam,” and “OK” in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. 2nd Edition. Revised by Sir Ernest Gowers. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1983). 202-203, 314-316, and 413.

Garner, Bryan A. “Skunked Terms,” “Slang,” and “Class Distinctions” in Garner’s Modern English Usage. 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 169-170 and 834-836.

McPhee, John. “Draft No. 4” in Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017. 157-175.


Master Class Fellows