Inane Grammar Rants with Elise: TRYING My Patience

It should surprise no one that I am somewhat of a grammarian. Is my own grammar perfect? Not even remotely. But I do understand the difference between a possessive, a plural, and a contraction ("Elise's grammar is not perfect," "Many Elises worry about grammar," and "Elise's a grammarian."). I know, and am avidly conscious, about split infinitives even though most people don't even think this is a rule any more. I try to use commas appropriately, but I am known to overuse them from time to time. I also don't really care if I end a sentence in a preposition, but I DO understand why it's a rule and that there is much debate on the subject. And I freely admit that I haven't the slightest clue why certain words get capitalized in titles and others don't, so I often just capitalize them ALL, which is not really a solution and I should just learn this.

With this said, I ALSO try not to be a snob about it. There are times I avoid Facebook simply because I CANNOT stand the lack of capitalization and punctuation (along with the plethora of inappropriate abbreviations; I'm looking at U, U-users), but I don't correct people either.

This is a rambly introduction. Sorry about that. What I'm trying to say is that I NOTICE bad grammar and GRATES. But I try to just go with the flow and ignore it, because who wants to be this guy? But every once in a while, I will point out poor grammar to a third-party. And it usually bites me in the ass. [GASP! She just SWORE! On the blog where she PROMISED not to swear! She must be tired of living up to her own expectations! Or maybe she just thought it was funnier than "bites me on the booty." Because maybe she doesn't want to sound like she's talking to toddlers? Hmmm...]

In light of the previous three (useless) paragraphs, let me tell you a story. When I was in high school, this song was popular:

Green Day - Brain Stew/Jaded:

I'm sure many of you remember it. In case you're wondering, I'm not exactly ADVOCATING this song, as the rest of this post will surely make clear. I'm just saying it was POPULAR and lots of people probably know it. You don't even need to watch the video to understand my point. In fact, save yourselves the agony, because my point involves ONLY the first line of this song. It goes a little something like this:

BUHdum BUHdum BUHdum BUHdumBUHdumBUHdum [What? It's not easy turning sounds into text!] BUHdum BUHdum BUHdumBUHdumBUHdum "I'm having trouble trying to sleep..."

Maybe you're not seeing where I'm about to go. Maybe you are and that means that you are my PEOPLE. But probably, this is just something that got warped inside of my head and no one else can see why. But this song bugs the ever-loving DAYLIGHTS out of me.

Having Trouble Trying to Sleep: A Grammar Rant by Elise Seaton

It was 2002. I'd recently had an English assignment in which I had to choose a popular song and analyze the lyrics, much like one would dissect a poem. I'd heard Brain Stew a few times, but I'd never really given it much thought before. One day, it came on the radio and my Dissector started pinging. I made an idle comment to my brother (who was driving the car that held the radio that was playing this infernal song) that it's pretty much impossible to HAVE TROUBLE TRYING something.

And thus, a decade-long, entire-family-versus-just-me disagreement began.

Think about it, though. You can have trouble sleeping. That's reasonable. You lie down in bed [FULL DISCLOSURE: I just had to look up the correct use of lie/lay bacuse that one is still tricky for me], you close your eyes, and you count sheep only to find that you are STILL AWAKE, despite your best efforts. I have been there. I understand this. I understand this ALL TOO WELL. You have ATTEMPTED to sleep and you have been unsuccessful in ACHIEVING sleep.

BUT! Think about what you're saying if you're having trouble TRYING to sleep. You attempt to lie down in your bed to attempt sleep and there is a force-field between you and your bed. Or you continuously lie down and fall immediately out of your bed. Or you attempt to close your eyes, but someone holds them open and you strain and strain to get your eyes closed. That is what having trouble TRYING says to me. That you are ATTEMPTING to sleep and that you have having trouble with your ATTEMPT.

BUT! Even then? You are having trouble GETTING INTO AND/OR STAYING BED. You are having trouble CLOSING YOUR EYES. The trouble is not in the ATTEMPT, the trouble is in the ACTUAL DOING. As Yoda says, "Do or do not. There is no try." Except the grammar of THAT statement is also questionable, so FORGET I USED IT OMG.

What I'm TRYING to convey here, and perhaps I am failing in the ACTUAL CONVEYANCE, is that you cannot have trouble TRYING. You can only have trouble DOING.

And I'm pretty sure I'm right about this.

By now, you may be asking yourself: "Why the hell is this important? [She swore again! She must be riled up! Except that really? She just made YOU swear. Which is different than actually swearing. It's like quoting a movie--it's not REALLY swearing.] It's one line in one song that wasn't all that good [I'm projecting good taste on to you, just go with it] and isn't really ever on the air anymore anyway. Not to mention all of the other songs with greater grammar issues. Why is it such a big deal?"

And I will tell you: IT'S NOT. It is not important AT ALL.

EXCEPT! I made an idle comment TEN YEARS AGO and this is STILL a family joke. They think I'm being a grammar snob. And they also think I'm WRONG in my clearly-outlined and completely RATIONAL AND LOGICAL conclusions stated above. So every time I hear this song, it sets my teeth on edge. Partly because it just stands there in its WRONGNESS and is flagrantly WRONG, but also because of the hassle I'm going to get from ANY MEMBER of my family if they realize what song it is. Or if I use any combination of the words "trouble," "trying," and "sleep" in the same sentence. This has reached LEGENDARY status, people, and not in the awesome-Barney-wait-for-it-Stinson kind of legendary.

I don't even argue back anymore, because it will just ENCOURAGE them and AGGRAVATE me to no end. But I'm ashamed to admit how often I still argue this out in my head. So the other day in the shower, while I was yet again arguing with myself and my mental versions of my family members (what? shower time is THINKING time), I decided to write this post. I figured 1) this is my blog; 2) if nothing else, I will be able to get my whole argument laid out on record (whatever kind of record a blog is...) without interruption; 3) the Internet is huge and maybe I will find someone to stand with me in this never-ending battle; and 4) this is the perfect subject for the kind of ranty-style post my blog has been missing since I left my rantastic job.

I have clearly thought about this far longer than is reasonable or necessary.

SO! In conclusion: You cannot have trouble TRYING, you can only have trouble DOING. Tune in next week for Inane Grammar Rants with Elise, in which I explain how absolutes with binary states (unique, pregnant, equal, etc) CANNOT and SHOULD NOT be paired with adverbs denoting intensity (really, very, somewhat, etc). This should be a rip-roarin' good time.

P.S. I know that I just painted a giant TARGET on my blog that will encourage OBNOXIOUS people to go through this and other posts and point out all the times that I have used less than perfect grammar and you know what? I'm not even going to dissuade them. Because I DID kind of ask for it and these people are not the type to be dissuaded anyway. But fair warning? I will point out any grammatical flaws in your comment if you do this. As is my right. Let the obnoxion begin.


  1. Nicole (a.k.a. Sister)4/25/12, 1:54 PM

    Did you ever consider that maybe the author of the song was using a semicolon? As in, "Having trouble; trying to sleep"? And while the absence of pronouns is troubling in and of itself, it generally falls under the widely-accepted purview of "creative license".

    Lawyered. ;)

  2. I DID think of that and even conceded that on many occasions (as you should remember), but everywhere that I have looked has that line as a whole, uninterrupted line without punctuation. And as there are no pauses to indicate such in the song, I must go with what is presented to me. I stand by my argument.

    (I also think you are giving Green Day far too much credit...)

  3. Nicole (a.k.a. Sister)4/25/12, 2:26 PM

    No, mostly I just like to argue with you.


  4. You've had TEN YEARS to argue your case. Now go bother someone else's blog. ;)

    By the way, where'd your water go?

  5. Nicole (a.k.a. Sister)4/25/12, 2:37 PM

    It's right next to the can of corn.

  6. I can't adequately express how much I love this post. (My biggest song lyric pet peeve is when artists use "you and I" incorrectly just to get the rhyme. Or maybe they don't care about misusing "you and I" simply because they don't KNOW they are misusing "you and I.") (And I'm so glad you mentioned the lay/lie issue - that's another huge pet peeve of mine. Not that I don't fully UNDERSTAND that they are very tricky to use correctly! But I just appreciate people who LOOK IT UP before slapping down "lay" when "lie" is correct.)