Grammar, Love, and Colloquial Language

The Free Cozy Grammar Newsletter with Marie Rackham and Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma

As we all embark on the adventures of a new year, I wanted to share a helpful rule from Marie about colloquial language and good grammar.

Although this rule from The Basic Cozy Grammar Course makes a simple and easy-to-follow point, it also speaks to the love that lies behind all of Marie's courses—her love of her students, her love of words and writing, and her love of her neighbors:

Love and Listening

Marie never wavered in her belief that all students could succeed if given the right tools. For her, grammar was the technique of speaking and writing that could help people achieve success in life.

But she also understood there are times when we should feel free to speak colloquially, especially among our families, friends, and neighbors. This is why Marie and her students don't usually fall into the trap of becoming "grammar police." She loved people and language too much to forget that good grammar isn't everything.

I think it's a key insight, and one that can help us as writers as well. I explain what I mean in the following video from Marie's Study Notes to The Basic Cozy Grammar Course:

I most heartily recommend keeping a notebook to help tune your ear to how people actually speak, in both formal and colloquial contexts.

Love and Language

Marie may not have said it directly, but all of her courses are a testament of and to love. She started filming them after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, not only as a way of living fearlessly in the face of illness, but also as a way of offering her distilled knowledge and wisdom to future generations of students.

You can read more about her story on our About Marie page.

An important part of that story is the love of learning and writing that informed everything Marie did. That is why, in the supplementary videos I've made for the Study Notes, I strive to show how grammar, rather than stifling creativity, can help instead to foster a love of writing and language.

Mother to Son

As you've seen if you've read our previous newsletters, what I normally do is connect a grammatical principle to a poem, a work of literature, or a creative writing exercise. (You can look at examples on the recent issues page of our website as well as on our YouTube Channel.)

But today, in honor of Marie's distinction between formal and colloquial settings, I wanted to offer something different.

In the following poem from Langston Hughes, Hughes shows how an ear for colloquial language can also create great poetry.

As you read, listen for the music of the language he heard:

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Hughes's poem is an act of love for the music and wisdom that can also be found in colloquial language.

I encourage you to read it out loud and to listen to Viola Davis and Langston Hughes himself bringing the poem to life in this clip on YouTube. Wisdom is always worth celebrating, in both formal and colloquial contexts.

Happy New Year!

We also wanted to take this opportunity to wish you and your family the very best for the New Year. 

And if you or anyone in your family starts keeping a notebook and would like to share any interesting things you hear, feel free to write to us. Who knows? Maybe it will find its way into our next newsletter!

Thank you for joining us, and we'll see you again next month!

Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma



Marie's Language Consultant
The Cozy Grammar Series of Courses