When Yvonne Mason first opened the letter, she read it all the way through. It did, after all, have the president’s seal at the top and his signature at the bottom.
But sometime around the third read, something began to irk the retired teacher, who had spent 17 years of her life refining the English skills of middle and high school students:
Look at all these unnecessarily capitalized letters, she thought.
“Federal” and “Nation” and “State” and “States” — common nouns capitalized as if they were proper nouns. And too many of the sentences began with the ninth letter of the alphabet: “I signed into law” and “I also directed.”
The letter, with her name on it, was written on heavy, official-feeling paper. Some would see such a letter from the president as suitable for framing. But for Mason, there was an itch that could not go unscratched.
She took out a purple pen and did something she had done countless times with countless papers.
She started circling.
It began with those pesky capital letters. But by the end, she had scrawled several notes, crossed out a few punctuation marks, and asked whoever wrote the letter a question that may or may not have been rhetorical: “Have y’all tried grammar and style check?”
A scrawl at the end of the paper was aimed at one sentence but seemed to sum up Mason’s opinion of the whole thing: “OMG this is WRONG!”
“If I had received this from one of my students,” she told The Washington Post, “I would have handed it back without a grade on it and said, ‘I hope you left the real one at home.’
She mailed the letter, now bleeding with purple ink, back to the White House. But first, she snapped a photo and posted it on her Facebook page, hoping to draw smiles from friends or former students who have been on the business end of her crusade to protect the English language.
Days later, a friend persuaded her to make the post public, and by the end of May, it had been shared more than 4,000 times, the latest piece of evidence for critics who believe the president and his administration play fast and loose with the English language.
As The Washington Post’s David Nakamura wrote in March: “The constant small mistakes — which have dogged the Trump White House since the president’s official Inauguration Day poster boasted that ‘no challenge is to great’ — have become, critics say, symbolic of the larger problems with Trump’s management style, in particular his lack of attention to detail and the carelessness with which he makes policy decisions.”
It’s a message Mason tried to drill into the minds of public school students for nearly two decades: How you speak, the words you choose and your mastery of the English language all convey something about you, whether you’re a high school sophomore or a junior senator.
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