I once heard a triple negative, arguably one of the greatest moments of my life. I was at a basketball camp the summer before my freshman year of high school, and while players were waiting to hear directions from a counselor, a kid from Chicago who was on my team turned to an eager camper and said, “He ain’t don’t tell us to do nothin’ yet.” I will never forget it. That’s the exact moment I fell in love with language.
That sentence doesn’t really make any sense, but when the kid said it, the words sounded poetic. Turns out Chaucer used sentences with multiple negatives in The Canterbury Tales. I’d like to think the kid from basketball camp now has a Chaucer quotation as his Twitter bio and is off somewhere working as a copywriter.
From the moment I heard the triple negative, you could probably trace a direct path to me sitting at my desk as an editor at Contently. Grammar is really important to me, and not just because of what I do. I’m generally interested in learning about it.
I think everyone on our content team feels the same way. Kieran Dahl, Contently’s social media editor, acts as our de facto copy editor before our articles go live, and he’s one of the few people I know who care about language as much as—if not more than—I do. I asked Kieran why he’s so interested in grammar, and he responded: “Because there’s generally a wrong and a right to language, and I hate being wrong.”
That should give you an idea of just how competitive our team is when it comes to words. I hate being wrong as well, but I actually disagree a bit with Kieran. I think part of the reason I’m fascinated by language is because we believe there’s generally a right or wrong answer—even if we don’t know what makes something right or wrong in the first place. And testing those assumptions is the surest way for us to become better writers and editors.
Until now, all of our quizzes have been outcome-based. You answer a mixture of practical and ridiculous questions and get a comforting result. But for this quiz, we raised the stakes and made it graded. We’ll take you back to the days of sixth grade and the dreaded red pen. We’ll make you sweat over comma splices and plural possessives. We’ll try to make you curse out the names of Strunk and White and Garner and Webster. And if you’re a SNOOT, go ahead and brag about how we couldn’t stump you.
We hope you accept the challenge.