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VOL. 128 | NO. 195 | Monday, October 07, 2013

 

Watch Your Language Serves as Professional Grammar Police

RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News

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Most people probably have one, the self-described grammar police ready to correct an error in tense or any participle left dangling.

But Elinor Grusin and Bill Brody are certified, called upon by newspaper editors and university deans, looked up to by college students. With a century of the written word in their arsenal, Grusin and Brody have teamed up to offer guidance and red marks as Watch Your Language LLC, an editing and writing service for the linguistically challenged.

“While the grammar, spelling and punctuation skills got progressively worse, we found that many businesses were having problems for the same reason,” Brody said. “We said, ‘Why not make a little business of it and we’ll see what the demand really is?’”

Longtime journalists and former U of M professors Bill Brody and Elinor Grusin have created Watch Your Language LLC, an editing and writing service.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The problem with poor grammar and spelling, he continued, has “reached plague proportions” and is cyclical with students going into the workplace without the skills necessary to get their messages across. Those messages, in turn, become public and are read by future students and professionals who see such mistakes as passable work. Newsrooms, too, understaffed as the industry contracts, are putting out stories, whether in print or televised, that are marked by errors.

For these two longtime teachers, such substandard copy is pure heartache.

“The sad part is so many people don’t recognize it,” Grusin said. “I’ve had so many students think that something is correct because they’ve seen it written incorrectly so many times or they’ve heard it spoken incorrectly. And it’s kind of endemic.”

Brody and Grusin, though sharing a business name, work independently. Their clients range from individuals to corporate entities, and fees are customized depending on the size and involvement in a project. Those projects are as varied as the clients themselves, ranging from writing company newsletters to ghostwriting manuscripts, editing dissertations or rewriting corporate documents.

Grusin counts International Paper and FedEx among clients and, in addition to typical editing services, has coached workshops for corporate writers.

“Our position is, if you’ve got something that needs to be written or edited, we’re the people who can help you with it,” Brody said.

The business was officially launched only weeks ago and the website, watch-your-language.com, is part informational and part educational. Services are listed, but so are resources for those who want to better their communication skills. The message is clear: if you don’t choose us to help you, please help yourself.

Brody was schooled at Eastern Illinois State University, California State University and the University of Memphis where he would end up teaching in the Journalism Department for 25 years. He began his career in journalism in 1950, moving from Connecticut to Florida and, eventually, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. After leaving the newspaper, he ran his own public relations firm for a decade, and finished up his Ph.D.

In his long and varied career, Brody has written or edited 15 manuscripts of everything from textbooks to biographies. At 80, and having retired from the academic life five years ago, Brody shows no signs of slowing down, still wanting to make a difference in the way information is disseminated and its quality.

“I want to keep writing, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy getting it right,” he said.

Grusin was the first female that venerable Commercial Appeal editor Frank Ahlgren ever hired to report “hard news,” she says. It was the early 1960s and she laughs now remembering that she told Ahlgren, when offered the job, “I’ll go home and think about it.” She ended up accepting the position on the spot and her tenure in the newsroom lasted five years.

Grusin saw herself as a “frustrated law student” and returned to school, not for a juris doctorate, but for a master’s degree and, eventually, a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communications from Ohio University. She taught at the University of Mississippi, making her way from there to the University of Memphis in 1988. She retired from the university in 2012, and has since been teaching writing at LeMoyne-Owen College.

In today’s race for up-to-the-minute news and facts spewed as if from a fire hose, Grusin and Brody aim to slow the pace. They read thoughtfully and edit according to the most basic rules writers have learned – or should have learned – in school. Words matter, it’s often said, and the way that those words are presented to the public will have repercussions on the future teachers, reporters and editors.

“I can’t imagine not doing it, quite frankly,” Grusin said regarding continuing with work at the age of 73. “I definitely think there’s a need.”

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