Posted Thursday, June 24, 2010, at 11:30 AM
Last night, while his seersucker cooled on the ironing board, Copy-Editing the Culture poured himself a glass of cold seltzer and settled into the movie pages. To do so, as this column has noted in the past , is often to submit to a depressing truth of modern life: that although this nation's cinematic minds have reinvented film technique , imagined distant corners of the universe , and gotten Julia Roberts to sing , a shocking number can't wield 26 letters and fewer punctuation marks to make grammatical sense. Copy-Editing the Culture was feeling resilient, though, and doughty. Steeling himself with a fresh measure of seltzer, he butterflied the paper and tried to set about making weekend plans. A dog, somewhere, barked with alacrity and purpose.
There's a new movie starring Salma Hayek, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. The movie is about what happens when a group of friends grows up to be a group of older friends, and it is called—this is when the highball slipped from Copy-Editing the Culture's hand and water spread across his modest breakfast table in a range of Gulf-spill-like geometries— Grown Ups . Just to be clear: That's Grown , space, Ups . What this might mean is a problem of Noam Chomsky -esque proportions. What's fairly certain is that at no stage of the movie's well-funded production did anybody think to check the spelling of the title.
The dictionary that Copy-Editing the Culture happens to be wedded to (not always happily) is Webster's New World College Dictionary: Fourth Edition . It's called "college" because it is intended for, as it were, grown-ups— or, as Webster's also allows, grownups . Never has Copy-Editing the Culture met a prescriptive dictionary that supports Sony's version of the word.
That's because the noun grown ups makes no sense. To grow up—or to push down, to walk toward, to jump up—is a straightforward verb intensified with a preposition. Grown-up is a single noun compounded from those pieces. But what's a grown up ? Grammatically, this uncompounded object makes sense only if one is describing an "up" that has grown. And what's an "up"? Does it eat? Need it be socialized?
By the time Copy-Editing the Culture had managed to shake these febrile questions from his mind and throw a roll of Bounty at the fizzing mess, he wanted nothing more to do with grown-ups and their tortured grammar. He's fleeing town to spend the weekend sipping still water and diagramming clauses in the mountains.
Spot a grammar clunker in the cultural limelight? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org .