Questions I Get Asked a Lot (or Wish I Did):

Q: What advice would you have for someone who’s not a strong writer and who wants to do well in English class?

A: I would suggest a variety of exercises targeting both the upper body and lower body. If you can develop strength training regimens that fit into your schedule before and after you complete your writing assignments then you will probably become a very strong writer. Unfortunately, being strong is not a requirement for doing well in English class. It can be helpful in terms of getting girlfriends, however, and romance is a treacherous path filled with heartache. And heartache leads to beautiful poetry and also Taylor Swift songs. So I can see how becoming a strong writer might help you to do well in English class, although to be honest, I would think that becoming a good writer would help a lot more.

Q: What is plagiarism and why do all my teachers think it’s such a big deal?

A: Plagiarism is stealing and stealing, as God says in the Bible, is only wrong if you get caught. So what you want to do is avoid quisling classmates. As William Shakespeare once said, “Bitches be snitches.” Plagiarism has the added benefit of making you sound terribly clever. Imagine how idiotic this answer would be if I had not quoted from Shakespeare and the Holy Bible! [Also misattribution is a type of plagiarism.]

Q: One last quick question: what is grammar? On a related note, how do I do it?

A: “Grammar” is an ancient manuscript etched in the blood of a virgin pigeon. If “Grammar” be read aloud whilst black candles be burnt, a white penguin made of smoke with eyes like razor blades will rise from the chambers of the sea and the muskrat will not see its shadow again until the harvest moon. A secret cabal that eats Cheez-Its in the dank catacombs beneath an antique city in a desert land scribes the “Grammar” and each year they add one more arcane rule. Only the cabal knows its Secrets. And the cabal have sworn eternal silence, else they will be forced to watch a dial-up internet browser load with their eyelids taped open. Only the penitent man will pass a grammar test.

Q: I don’t mean to be rude, but that was not helpful at all. Also, I suspect you made some of that up. But let me try one more time. I am confused about a specific grammar question: When do I use an apostrophe?

A: Ah! Yes, this can be confusing. I will explain. An apostrophe (’) is used to indicate possession. It follows the noun doing the possessing.

Example: The demon’s human husk . . .

Apostrophes never indicate a plural. The confusion comes from “its” vs. “it’s.”

It’s is an abbreviation of it is or it has.

Its means it possesses something.

Example: It’s got claws growing out of its nostrils.

Apostrophes never, ever indicate plurals. I repeat that because perhaps you didn’t get it the first time.

Incorrect:  The demon has been wearing a mullet since the 1980’s.

This apostrophe is incorrect because the 1980s do not own mullets. Chuck Norris owns mullets.

Incorrect: I have many DVD’s.

This apostrophe is incorrect because you should be streaming your content. It is the 2010s, geez.

Q: Okay, that was slightly more helpful. How about the semi-colon? I’ve never figured out the correct usage of a semi-colon.

A: God and the pope do not believe that two independent clauses should lie together outside of the holy bounds of legal punctuation.

This is a clause: She was a succubus.

It kind of sucks, but whatever: it’s still a clause.

This is a list of clauses, separated with periods as God intended: She was a succubus. He was Jabba the Hut. It was a match made in an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

Sometimes, however, you want to say two independent clauses very close together, with just a teeny little breathy pause between them—like, say, you were reading aloud a sentence with a comma in it.

You want to say, “She was a succubus, he was Jabba the Hut.”

But you can’t because that is illegal in 49 states and West Virginia will make it illegal as soon as West Virginia figures out what reading is.

So you put a semi-colon between two independent clauses whose semantic content is closely related, like so:

She was a succubus; he was Jabba the Hut. It was a match made in an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

And that is perfectly grammatical, at least until you decide you want to start experimenting with colons.

Q: Thank you! That was helpful, although to be honest I am not very interested in grammar. What I really want to know is, how do I get As on English papers?

A: I’m so glad you asked! “A”s are the little key on the farthest left, middle row on your keyboard. If at any point in your life you find yourself asking a teacher this question, you should know that the only As you’re likely to get on your papers are the ones you make by finding that key on your keyboard.

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