The very model of an amateur grammarian

(With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)

I am the very model of an amateur grammarian
I have a little knowledge and I am authoritarian
But I make no apology for being doctrinarian
We must not plummet to the verbal depths of the barbarian

I’d sooner break my heart in two than sunder an infinitive
And I’d disown my closest family within a minute if
They dared to place a preposition at a sentence terminus
Or sully the Queen’s English with neologisms verminous

I know that ‘soon’ and not ‘right now’ is the true sense of ‘presently’
I’m happy to correct you and I do it oh so pleasantly
I’m not a grammar Nazi; I’m just a linguistic Aryan
I am the very model of an amateur grammarian

I’m sure people appreciate my pointing out their grammar gaffes
And sorting out their sentences and crossing out their paragraphs
When you crusade for good English, it’s not all doom and gloom you sow
The secret of success is: it’s not who you know; it’s whom you know

The standards of our language are declining almost every day
Down from a peak in 18– or 19– I think – well, anyway
Pop music, TV, blogs and texting are inflicting ravages
Upon English and unchecked, this will turn us into savages

I fear that sloppy language is a sign of immorality
For breaking rules of grammar is akin to criminality
So curse those trendy linguists, lexicographers and anyone
Who shuns the model English of the amateur grammarian

Conjunctions at the openings of sentences are sickening
I wish that the decline of the subjunctive were not quickening
And that more people knew the proper meaning of ‘anticipate’
Of ‘fulsome’ and ‘enormity’, ‘fortuitous’ and ‘decimate’

I learned these rules at school and of correctness they’re my surety
I cling to them for safety despite having reached maturity
Some say that language changes, but good English is immutable
And so much common usage now is deeply disreputable

My pedantry’s demanding but I try not to feel bitter at
The fact that everyone I meet is borderline illiterate
When all around are wrong then I am proud to be contrarian
I am the very model of an amateur grammarian

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  • pauldanon  On September 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    On about mistakes in others’ words I confidently hammer
    Yet these actions show I don’t quite know what the meaning is of “grammar”.

  • Mandy Collins  On September 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Too, too wonderful! Well done.

  • Andrew  On September 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Oh, well done. That’s perfect.

  • Corey  On September 5, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Lovely, except this grammar Nasi has no problem with split infinitives… or infinitives split. Moreover, I would use an em dash not an en dash, which is more properly applied to ranges. And there is no rule against using conjunctions at the start of sentences—that’s just silly. What’s more, where the hell is your punctuation?! Sloppy! 🙂

    • Bearfoot  On September 9, 2012 at 4:50 am


      Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  • Corey  On September 5, 2012 at 1:03 am

    A sticky delete key left me with an s in my ‘Nazi’! 😦

  • Tom Freeman  On September 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Thanks guys, I’m glad you liked it!
    Corey, I’m guessing you may be American? Em dashes are rare in British, and we tend to use spaced ens for parenthetical asides. Just one of those things. (One bit that didn’t make the final cut was “I’d tighten immigration for all usages American / For I’m the very model of an amateur grammarian”)
    And, sadly, there are plenty of people who think you shouldn’t start a sentence with a conjunction. Fowler called it a “faintly lingering superstition”, and it still is.
    I tried punctuating the ends of lines, but they were mostly full stops and semicolons, and that spoiled the look of it. Poetic licence?

    • Elisa  On September 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      Tom, a friend just posted the link to this – it is an amazing piece of writing. well done, and thank you for brightening up my day!

  • eflsarah  On September 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm


  • Amy Davis  On September 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I typed papers for college students when I was in college. Please! One “should have” not “should of”….ah!!!!! I know this happened because of the sound of the contraction “should’ve” when spoken. Just stop it!!!!

  • David Hardwick  On September 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    What Elisa said! A lovely piece of parodification.

  • happytoberandom  On September 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    I have a feeling I may have just fallen in love! People simply don’t get how them getting their language right can be an emotional experience for me! You just put it down – in verse!

  • Meg Martin  On September 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm


  • Gencer Sparfield  On September 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Prepositions CAN be put at the end of sentences. It just doesn’t sound like Latin, which clearly makes it “lower” on the linguistic food chain.
    Wonderful song, though. 🙂

  • Kathleene K West  On September 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I noticed the lack of punctuation also, and I’m surprised that you allowed yourself “poetic license.” End the tyranny that produced this fear of full stops!

  • Kathleene K West  On September 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    And while we’re at it, could we place a ban on smiley faces?

  • psam ordener  On September 5, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Reminds me of a poem I learned in 6th grade, part of which is:

    “Correctness is my vade mecum.
    Straggling phrases I abhor,
    and yet I wondered – what should he come
    up from out of in under for?”

  • Warsaw Will  On September 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Absolutely perfect, but is it my imagination or have one or two people not quite ‘got’ this.

    • Crazy Janey  On September 6, 2012 at 1:56 am

      I concur, though it seems to me that the fault-finders are just being cheeky. But Corey, please — song lyrics don’t need punctuation.

  • Alwyn Ladell  On September 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Shocking! The author would have us rhyme “gaffes” with “paragraphs” – what a giveaway! He or she evidently has one of those vulgar “northern” accents! 😮

    • Marilyn Hudson Tucker  On September 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Oh, my. I pronounce “gaffes” and “graphs” the same. What should I be doing?

      • Sarah D.  On September 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

        Gaffe and graph should sound similar and rhyme. The word gaffe comes from French, so the “e” is silent. The pronunciation guide for gaffe is [gaf], the pronunciation guide for graph is [graf].

        However, those who use the [grahf] pronunciation of graph find that the words don’t rhyme quite so well. 🙂

      • Marilyn Hudson Tucker  On September 16, 2012 at 6:03 pm

        Thanks, Sarah D. I was worried for nothing.

    • Duncan Waldron  On September 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      …or one of those very fine Scots accents 😛

    • Chris  On September 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Southern accents come from the French influence. Fanatics of the English language at the time must have been incensed by such bastardisation of the tongue.

      • Marilyn Hudson Tucker  On September 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm

        I still don’t understand this comment. I pronounce “gaffes” and “graphs” the same. Am I doing something wrong?

  • Sam Longoria  On September 6, 2012 at 2:10 am

    Tom! Excellent! Magnificent! Splendid! Keep up the good work!

  • Jonathon  On September 6, 2012 at 5:01 am


  • shanothaine  On September 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm


  • William Freedman  On September 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm


  • carol carpenter  On September 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm


  • quislibet  On September 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Among other things, the forced mispronunciation of “illiterate” to rhyme with “bitter at” is both cleverly ironic and particularly Gilbertian. Well done.

  • bratschegirl  On September 7, 2012 at 7:15 am

    This is altogether brilliant. I am in awe.

    I would only beg to quibble with one of your choices. I don’t care for the use of “Nazi” as a mild pejorative, as in “grammar Nazi” above. I understand that it’s a common phrase, but I believe that word loses its power to horrify when it’s used to describe something merely annoying, and I think that’s unfortunate.

    • Nick  On September 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      A “Nazi” Nazi! How meta.

      • Chris  On September 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        I love Nick’s comment

  • baroquemongoose  On September 7, 2012 at 10:14 am


  • Rodger Cunningham  On September 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Corey, a grammar Nasi would be Hermann Goreng, right?

    • Rachael  On September 8, 2012 at 9:14 am

      Very nice. 🙂

  • Hilary  On September 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I absolutely love this adaptation. Thank you!

  • vasha7  On September 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm


  • Dave Empey  On September 7, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Brilliant! Though I can’t help thinking King Gama’s song from Princess Ida “If you give me your attention” would have been an even better one to parody for this:
    If you give me your attention i will tell you what I am:
    I’m a genuine grammarian–all other kinds are sham,
    Each little fault of language and rhetorical defect
    in my erring fellow creature I endeavor to correct…

  • Gilbert Jones  On September 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Operetta is saved!

    • psam ordener  On September 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Keep going! We can use a complete operetta based on grammar.

  • Paxo Grammaticus  On September 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    I am impressed. Modern-major-general pastiches are thick on the ground, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen one so skilfully executed.

  • Alice Fugate  On September 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Delightful! I bet Gilbert & Sullivan are wishing they could have used it in one of their operas.

  • Kamla Williams  On September 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Well said……Amateur Grammarian, a little learning is a dangerous thing……study the history of the English Language and then see if you still want to give advice on what is right and what is not……

  • Theodore Kloba (@oakblood3)  On September 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    From the look of the comments, I think you began with the intention to denounce, but in the end you became an accomplice.

    With the verse form of this parody, it’s hard to identify exactly where the effects of Muphry’s law are found.

  • er guiri de lamiga de la prima esa  On September 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm


  • korystamper  On September 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Ten extra points from the Disreputable Lexicographer’s lobby for rhyming “terminus” with “verminous.” And it scans! *swoon*

  • Mike van de Water  On September 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Ummm… shouldn’t that be “proper” English (in the 13th line)?…
    but otherwise, I loved it!

  • Tom Freeman  On September 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I’m very happy that people have got some fun out of this – I know I had plenty myself in writing it!
    A few short responses to particular points:
    Bratschegirl: Yes, likening self-important bossiness to actual Nazism is preposterously disproportionate. But as you say, it’s a common idiom; if it were capable of sapping our horror at the Holocaust, it would have done so long ago.
    Dave Empey: Very nice! I don’t actually know any G&S other than Pirates of Penzance, but yours sounds good.
    Sam Longoria: “Keep up the good work!” Oh hell. Expectations. Dammit. I’ll do my best (most of my blogging isn’t comedy), but I think it’ll be a good while before I can match this one…

    And a general point: I promise you that every single item of usage complained about in the song is something that serious-minded people genuinely do insist to be a rule of English – and that most other people ignore. Me, I’m a lot less prescriptivist than I used to be. I was never really like the amateur grammarian, but I’m vaguely familiar with bits of that outlook.

    Also, if anyone feels tempted to do a recording of this, your singing voice couldn’t possibly be worse than mine!

  • kath  On September 7, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Absolutely love this. My parents used to play Gilbert and Sullivan records all the time. I was imagining the Modern Major General singing this on HMS Pinefore!

  • steve shilstone  On September 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Dang. That were real real good.

  • sjb351  On September 8, 2012 at 2:12 am


  • Sam Milam  On September 8, 2012 at 4:09 am

    Love it! Punctuation wouldn’t improve the piece in my opinion, so good use of poetic licence. Isn’t breaking grammar rules the best part of learning them? 😉

  • sallyann naveh  On September 8, 2012 at 9:32 am

    f—ing brilliant!!

  • Marilyn Hudson Tucker  On September 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I love the poem. Kudos to you.
    I have an article on some of the grammar issues we face today.
    I’m told it’s quite funny.

  • J. Eric Laing  On September 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Reblogged this on J. Eric Laing.

  • Gailee Walker Wells  On September 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    This is a sign that out there in a world of s’up? and dudeioms
    There still beat hearts of truly lingualizing grammarudians

  • hklang  On September 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Canonical letter and poem of raymond chandler:

  • ms. melody (@moximer)  On September 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Genius!! I loved this:

    “The standards of our language are declining almost every day
    Down from a peak in 18– or 19– I think – well, anyway”

  • Margy Rydzynski  On September 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Reblogged this on Collectables and commented:
    Ahem, ahem…memememememememe…

  • Tom Accuosti  On September 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Reblogged this on The Daily Tom.

  • jnothman  On September 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Wrong stress pattern in “disreputable”!

    • jnothman  On September 9, 2012 at 9:37 am

      Though I admit that might be the point…

  • Marjorie M-F  On September 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! Gilbert would be quite proud!

  • Adam  On September 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Hi Tom, this is beautiful, but I’m forced to ask: do you need the comma here:

    “Upon English and unchecked, this will turn us into savages”


    “Upon English and unchecked this will turn us into savages


  • Diana Skelton  On September 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Enjoyed most of this very much, but I was actually more distressed by the Aryan reference than the Nazi one. Just what is “linguistic Aryan” meant to evoke? Between that and the “crusade” later, I started to worry think of that Henry Higgins line about the French “who don’t care what they say as long as they pronounce it properly”!

  • katrinkagold  On September 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Love it!

  • GlenMarshall  On September 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Reblogged this on Glen Marshall's Miscellany.

  • Daniel J  On September 11, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Tom, I think it somewhat inappropriate to so deliciously channel Tom Lehrer, whilst He yet lives. Sublime! ^__^

  • Word Worry Will  On September 12, 2012 at 2:41 am

    Laugh out loud witty. And no apologies needed to W S Gilbert. He would heartily agree with your sentiments. He might even sing along, no matter that he reportedly had Van Gogh’s ear for music.

  • Michael Hightower  On September 12, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Well done!

  • Michelle  On September 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Absolutely wonderful! Could you include something about the proper pronunciation of “forte” if there’s a remix?

  • LN  On September 13, 2012 at 4:13 am


  • Shotgun Mike  On September 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Step 1: write lryics. Check.
    Step 2: record rap video…?

  • Barbara Heroux  On September 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    This is awesome! I’m the artistic director of the Lamplighters, a G&S company in San Francisco. We write parody lyrics every year for our fundraising Gala. This is right up there with the best we’ve ever done — Bravo!

  • Marilyn Hudson Tucker  On November 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I have a new blog post about how literary STAR TREK was.


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