Inherit the Word

By Emily Milner

While reading my ancestor John Solomon Fullmer‘s letters last week, I came across this piece of advice, written in a letter to his brother David:

P.S. Inasmuch as your vocation will in future be of a public nature, I will give you this little piece of advice, at which I hope you will not take umbrage . . . above all, improve your grammar . . . No man who is a public speaker, however intelligent he may be, has, or can have half the influence that he might have if he be found deficient in the language he uses, especially if it be his native one. I will give you an example. Why did I just say, “if he be found,” and “if it be his native one?” Because there is a contingency expressed in both cases. Nothing is more common than to use the verb is in both these places, and nothing is more incorrect. You might as well say they was.

I recognized this as a nineteenth century version of a lecture I have given myself. Someplace in my personal genome there must be a Word Awareness Gene,

Read More