Today in my class “The Professional Biologist”, we were discussing grammar and its use or lack thereof.  It is no big secret that I do not have good grammar but I don’t think I ever got into a thirty minute debate over it. 

The class started out with the following joke:

A panda walks into a bar.  He sits down, orders food, then eats it.  After he is finished, he stands up, pulls an UZI from his pocket and shoots bullets into every wall.  Then the panda leaves.  The bartender, who is noticeably upset, runs outside after the panda.  The bartender asks the panda what the hell that was all about.  The panda tells the bar tender that he looked up panda in the dictionary that day.  The dictionary definition says: panda – a bearlike animal that eats, shoots and leaves. 

We all had a big laugh.  The point was the use of a comma in that sentence makes a big difference in its meaning.  So…

As biologists, we have to write many sentences using amounts.  Fifty grams was measured and tested for…  When writing about an amount of something, the amount is always considered singular, even if it is fifty grams.  Fifty grams were measured and tested, is grammatically incorrect. This sparked a rather lively debate.  Nicollette was confused and wanted clarification.  Doug said, “You don’t say I have fifty pounds of chickens in my freezer.  You say I have fifty pounds of chicken in my freezer.”

Nicollette shot back, “Well if I have live chickens in my yard and their total weight is fifty pounds, then I would say I have fifty pounds of chickens, not just fifty pounds of chicken.”

We went through hogs, dogs, kittens, gorillas, atoms – you name it.  I don’t know who won.  I suspect they are still fighting about it. 

We had another debate about word pairs.  Word pairs like effect and affect, which and that, mitosis and cellular division, etc…  They were really getting angry about this.  Taylor said that most of us only have a seventh grade level of grammar and how exactly are we supposed to improve on it when no one agrees as to what the rules are?  That did it.  We talked about being educated, joining the elite, paying attention to what we say, reading books about grammar.  It was basically a Taylor bashing session.

All I know is that I am supposed to go around saying These data are and Fifty pounds was to keep my usage correct.