Interview with Grammar Girl
New York Times Bestselling Author
and Host of a Weekly Podcast
Mignon Fogarty, more widely known as Grammar Girl, hosts a five to ten minute weekly podcast focused on giving simple grammar tips that are easy to apply to our everyday lives.
She used to edit technical science writing and found that people made the same mistakes over and over again. This prompted her to start a podcast devoted to giving grammar information in bite-sized amounts.
Now, almost three years later, she records her wildly popular podcast in the privacy of her closet. Each five to ten minute show takes her eight to ten hours to research and produce.
Along with creating and producing her podcasts, she has also written a book, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
She has been on the Oprah Winfrey Show and has been interviewed by the New York Times, USA Today, Reader's Digest, and many other periodicals.
1. Why do you think it is important for people to learn grammar?
The quality of your writing often has a huge influence on the first impression you make on people. It used to be that we'd meet people in person, but now it's common to meet people online, where writing is the most popular form of communication. The saying used to be "dress for success," but today I'd say "write for success" is more appropriate.
2. Were you ever taught sentence diagramming in school? I see that you have a Grammar Girl Christmas card with a sentence diagram on it, so you must have learned diagramming somewhere along the way!
Yes! I learned to diagram sentences in the sixth grade and loved it. I had completely forgotten how to do it by the time I made the Grammar Girl Christmas card with the diagram, so I got to spend almost a week relearning it. What a fun week! It's challenging to learn and when I was finished I had a new way of looking at sentences. Now I sometimes diagram a sentence in my head to figure out what part of speech I'm dealing with.
3. Language and grammar change over time. Do you see these changes as being negative or positive?
The more I study the history of English, the more I'm in favor of changes. It's changed so dramatically over the last couple hundred years that I don't see any reason for it to be set in stone now. It's always a fight. People have rarely been overjoyed by changes in language, but I think we need to see change as inevitable and try to nudge the changes in directions that make sense.
I love neologisms (new words) that describe a new concept. "Locavore" is a recent example. It means someone who eats food that was produced locally. It's a new idea, and it required a new word to describe it. I'm less in favor of new words that replace perfectly good words. For example, some people don't like using "female" as an adjective because they think it sounds too clinical or scientific, so they started using "woman" instead. They'd say something like "Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House." I don't think we need to use "woman" in that way, because "female" is the traditional adjective and there's nothing wrong with it.
4. You've been doing your weekly podcast since July 2006. Is it getting more difficult to come up with topics?
Yes, actually it is getting more difficult to come up with topics. I've done about 170 shows, and I've already covered all the big questions. I struggle with how often to cover topics that I've already done because I know I have a lot of new listeners who missed them the first time. I get a lot of question that indicate people haven't heard or seen the older shows; but I also need to balance that with not boring the long-time listeners. I rarely release a true rerun; I try to at least update a show before I put it out again.
5. I heard that you are currently writing a daily grammar devotional which will be coming out this November. Can you explain why you decided to write a grammar book in the style of a devotional?
I'm especially excited about this book. I actually back-burnered another book project to get this one out in time for Christmas. My tip-a-day e-mail newsletter has been really popular, and I think people appreciate having a tiny bit of information to absorb every day instead of facing an entire book. I love to think of people getting a nice bookmark and opening The Grammar Devotional
every morning or every evening and reading one short tip. By the end of the year, they will have learned enough "rules" to make their writing a lot better. And then, of course, there is an index so they can continue to use it as a reference book. We seriously thought about doing a tip-a-day calendar, but I think having a book people can also keep and continue to use makes it a much better value.
6. Tell us a little bit about your New York Times bestseller, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Were you surprised by its success?
I was completely surprised by the success of my podcast, but by the time the book came out, I felt pretty confident (and definitely hoped) that it would be as successful as it was. My listeners and readers have been so enthusiastic and supportive that I had faith in them. I think my publisher was more surprised than I was. Bookstores ran out of my book while I was on my book tour, and most of the people working at the bookstores seemed stunned by the crowds that showed up. But I had been in touch with a lot of the fans through Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail, so I had an inkling of how many people would come. (Even I was stunned by the 300+ crowd that showed up in Altanta though. I'll have a soft spot in my heart for Atlanta forever.) TV and radio stations also always seem surprised by the great feedback they get when I'm on. Sometimes it can be a challenge to book an appearance because they'll think, "Grammar? Who cares about that?" but then the phones always ring off the hook with people who have grammar questions and pet peeves to share.
7. I tend to overuse the exclamation point. Inevitably, when editing my writing, I will have to delete a few exclamation points. Is there any error that you are prone to making?!!! (he he he)
I often type "it's" when I mean "its." Of course, I know the difference, but my fingers get away from me and it's an easy error to pass over. My copy editors know to look for it, but occasionally one will slip through and it's terribly embarrassing.
8. Random Question: What was the last book that you read?
The last book I read was an advance readers copy of The Embers
by Hyatt Bass. It's heartwrenching, but I adored it! I read it on a plane and was such a red-eyed, sniffling mess that people in the airport must have thought I had left behind a lover.
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Keep learning and have fun!
Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of the Grammar Revolution step-by-step grammar and sentence diagramming programs. Her programs are guaranteed not only to teach you grammar, but also to give you more confidence in your communication skills.
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