The Grace of Arnold the Grammarian: “Readers who do this do it because they love words, but also the rules of words.”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Jason Gay headlined “The Grace of Arnold The Grammarian”:

I’ve been doing this for a long while, at a lot of different publications, and I know what it’s like to have nobody read what I’m doing. That anyone would take a moment to read my column feels like a blessing, for which I’m grateful.

For instance: Arnold Tenenbaum. A kindhearted gentleman from Savannah, Ga., who liked brightly patterned shirts and funky sunglasses, Arnold was the patriarch of an eccentric Southern family I’d known since I’d met Arnold and his wife Lorlee’s youngest daughter, Ali, while in college.

To know the Tenenbaums was to want to be one; it’s why a pair of family friends, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, borrowed the name when they wrote the screenplay for “The Royal Tenenbaums.”. . .

Arnold was also a huge Journal reader, and when I got a job working here, he cheered me like I’d landed on the surface of the moon. With great regularity, he’d check in on me—always with a thoughtful comment about something I’d just written, and almost always with, well…a grammatical correction.

Here’s something you may already know about newspapers: We don’t always get the grammar so good. . . .My Journal editors are brilliant at saving me from my butchery, but they can’t catch everything, especially on deadline.

Arnold seemed to catch everything. He belonged to a certain type of old-school newspaper crowd. He didn’t mind technology, but he preferred to read print, a pen or a pencil nearby, just in case some egregious blunder had to be noted. . . .

Arnold would write to me, his gentle fixes humanely wrapped in compliments:

Fun column but next to last paragraph: ‘None of them have’ should be ‘none of them has.’ None is short for no one (singular.) X Arnold

Good article on the Oscars but one grammatical correction: Next to last paragraph should begin with ‘Among,’ not ‘Between.’ Between is between two alternates. Among is more than two. I hope all is good. X Arnold

You might think that this sort of hen-pecking would get on my nerves after a while—who enjoys having their grammar corrected?—but I appreciated it so much. Readers who do this do it because they love words, but also the rules of words. They believe that structure is important and spelling counts.

Besides, Arnold was always sweet, fatherly. He was the opposite of a scold. He was a grammarian of style, but also grace.

A couple of months ago, the emails stopped. Arnold Tenenbaum died on March 24. Five days later, his beloved Lorlee passed away. Both of them died of complications from Covid-19. They are survived by four children and eight grandchildren. After a lengthy delay because of the pandemic, they will be buried in Savannah on Sunday—June 14, the day they would have celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary.

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