The grammar of Grammer

It can be fun to check the grammar of some of your favorite speechwriters, actors and authors. One of my favorite shows is “Frasier,” which inspired me to take this journey through the grammar of Kelsey Grammer, who plays the titular character in the sit-com.

To begin, I selected a couple quotes from “Frasier.” The first is from season one, episode 19, which is titled “Give Him the Chair!” Dr. Frasier Crane laments, “By tonight my dad will be safely back in his beer-stained, flea-infested, duct-taped recliner, adjusting his shorts with one hand and cheering on Jean-Claude Van Damme with the other. Yes, it’s quite a little piece of heaven I’ve carved out for myself, isn’t it?”

Frasier has kept his syntax together pretty well for this quote — though he might want to be careful with the hyphenation if he were to write it down. AP style guidelines allow hyphenation for compound modifiers, though not if they produce a double vowel or triple consonant.

In season six, episode 11, “Good Samaritan,” Frasier quips, “What child wouldn’t be thrilled with a coconut death mask on his birthday?” No errors here — though the sentence could gain some clarity if it were put into a more active voice, such as, “All children would be thrilled with a coconut death mask on their birthday!”

Grammer also provided the voice acting for Stinky Pete the Prospector in “Toy Story 2” and continues to voice Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons.” In a dramatic moment near the climax of “Toy Story 2,” Stinky Pete exclaims, “It’s your choice, Woody; either you can go to Japan together or in pieces! He fixed you once, he can fix you again. Now get in the box!”

For clarity, this should read, “It’s your choice, Woody. You can either go to Japan entirely or in pieces! He fixed you once, he can fix you again. Now, get in the box!” It becomes more clear that Stinky Pete is referring to Woody’s bodily condition, rather than his association with a group going to Japan.

Finally, in an exchange between Sideshow Bob and Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith), Lisa actually does my job for me, correcting Sideshow Bob’s misquoting of William Shakespeare. Sideshow Bob complains, “Sideshow Bob, hoisted on his own petard.” To which Lisa replies, “Actually, that’s hoisted by his own petard.” Sideshow Bob retorts, “Oh, get a life.” A petard is a sort of bomb which has a leg to prop it against a door or wall. Translations vary, but it makes more sense to be “hoisted by your own petard” or “hoisted with your own petard” than “hoisted on your own petard.” Sideshow Bob’s reply aims to harm the reputation of Lisa and definitely qualifies as slander.

To close as Frasier would (but grammatically correct),
Hey baby, I hear the blues calling,
Tossed salad and scrambled eggs.
Though I may seem a bit confused,
Yes, I am, but I got you pegged!
Ha, ha, ha, ha!
But I don’t know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs.
They’re calling again.

Contact Patrick Tehaney at [email protected].