Imagine you are eight years old again, and your parents say to you: “Today we’re going to take you to see a six-foot man-eating chicken behind glass.” When my parents said that to me almost 20 years ago, my mind was bombarded with images of the world’s biggest chicken, isolated behind thick, impenetrable glass and being fed whole goats to suppress its appetite so it didn’t get a craving for “Bob” or “Larry.” All morning long, this is what I had imagined.
Around lunchtime, the suspense was making me irritable. I couldn’t stop thinking about the oversized monster chicken. Part of me didn’t want to believe my parents. After all, how is it that I had lived eight long years without ever having seen a real man-eating chicken? But my parents continued to promise that in the afternoon, I would get to witness the six-foot man-eating chicken behind glass.
The anticipation was tormenting me. I grew more impatient than a 14-year-old girl waiting in line for a Justin Bieber concert. Surely, this would be the most incredible day of my life. My friends were going to PEE themselves when I told them what I’d seen. Hell, I was ready to pee myself and I hadn’t even seen it yet!
At last, my parents appeared in my bedroom doorway and said it was time to go. In the car, I barely managed to control my enthusiasm. Every intersection, every turn, and every traffic light was ushering us closer to the fowl phenomenon. When my father steered the car into the parking lot of a KFC, I was, to say the least, confused.
Sometimes it’s useless to question my parents’ decisions; stopping at the KFC was one of those times. I followed them into the restaurant and absent-mindedly ordered chicken tenders. We waited at the counter until an employee presented us with a tray of food. As soon as we slid into a booth, I began to pester my parents. What were we doing at KFC? I thought we were going to see a man-eating chicken! GOD, I JUST WANT TO SEE A MAN-EATING CHICKEN!
My mom and dad exchanged glances. My mother motioned to my dad’s plate, which held a variety of extra-crispy chicken parts. “The man-eating chicken,” she said. “You’re looking at it.”
“That’s dad,” I argued.
By now, my dad was all giggles. Still puzzled, I stared helplessly at my mother.
“Yes,” my mom confirmed. “He is a six-foot-tall man, and he’s eating chicken behind glass.” For emphasis, she motioned to the glass windows that were painted with blurbs about 8-piece meals.
In my mind, I uttered every swear word my young, innocent ears had ever heard. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. But twenty years later, I can share this story as an example of how delicate grammar can be. I recently read an article on The Huffington Post in which Kimberly Tan argues that grammar is of little importance and that content is all that truly matters in a piece of writing. Well, honey, I hate to break it to you, but grammar matters. For Pete’s sake, in my story above, the presence of an EN DASH changed the entire context of a statement. The content was the same: a string of words consisting of a six foot tall man eating chicken behind glass. Only the en dash alters the meaning of the words, depending on where it is placed.
Some people read my blog and think I’m anal and judgmental. Hell yes—when it comes to grammar, I am certainly anal and judgmental. But when all it takes is a little dash to completely modify the way the words in our language are perceived, shouldn’t we all feel that way?