Grammar ain’t fun

From Laura Staum Casasanto, a link to the Curious Pages blog (“recommended inappropriate books for kids; recommended reading for cool kids and young rebels”) and its posting on Munro Leaf’s Grammar Can Be Fun (1934):

This title by Ferdinand author Munro Leaf makes grammar so fun that you pass out or die.

(Note adjective fun in this comment.)

The character on the cover is in fact ain’t, who/which Leaf deprecates:

[The characterization of ain’t as “lazy” has always seemed to me to be a deflection of a social judgment onto a moral one — as if the millions of English speakers who naturally have this usage are aiming for isn’t (or whatever) but settle for ain’t instead as “easier”, so that the somewhat longer variants “aren’t worth the trouble” (the way so many millions of lazy dolts, shame on you all, aim for do not but settle for the easier don’t instead). (Look, don’t get me wrong; I understand that ain’t is non-standard. But anything that isn’t formal standard written English isn’t some sort of jumbled ignorant lazy crap. Far from it.)]

Leaf goes on to disparage (among other things) uh-huh and un-un (his spellings); gimme, gonna, and wanna; and I feel good/bad. The fun is in the graphics, but the messages are sternly directive and they ain’t no fun at all.

Leaf produced a long series of X Can Be Fun books, clearly intended to induce little kids into enjoying things they were inclined not to like:. For X =

Manners, Reading, Brushing Your Teeth [my absolute favorite]. Geography, Safety, Science, Metric [a close second], History, Health, Arithmetic [Broccoli and Spinach are unaccountably missing]

and no doubt more. (Not that many of these subjects cannot be presented as sources of great enjoyment — my 7-year-old grand-daughter spent a while this morning playing an algebra game on her mother’s iPad, for goodness sake — but Leaf’s texts have a lot of “swallow your cod-liver oil, it’s good for you, and that’s really important” in them.)

Leaf also wrote equally didactic Watchbird material (“This is a Watchbird watching a Sneaky” — you can fill in the rest) and a number of books on manners for kids (How to Behave and Why, Speak Politely and Why), plus fiction beyond Ferdinand (1936), which got Leaf into some trouble because of its perceived subversively pacifist message.


2 Responses to “Grammar ain’t fun”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    Leaf also wrote “Sam and the Superdroop” (1948), which was an episodic moral tale that took the kid viewpoint character through a bunch of hackneyed comic book plots, making fun of them rather meanly all the way. I liked the book and reread it several times from our local library as a kid. But I didn’t approve of he moralistic tone; comic books are fun, for Pete’s sake.

  2. Gay Mother Goose « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Grammar ain’t fun […]

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