This is a guest post by David Morris, a sub-editor and former English language teacher who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics. David has written a few posts for Strong Language and writes about language at his blog Never Pure and Rarely Simple.
I stumbled across a website called Shit My Students Write,* on which teachers – it’s not specified what level – anonymously submit examples of their students’ writing. Most are of the type that used to be called “schoolboy howlers”. Sometimes the student’s intention is clear: “Hitler was a facetious dictator.” But I couldn’t figure out what was intended by the student who wrote:
My grandmother, when she was alive, was quite the grammar ho.
There are two possibilities. Either they really meant to write that, in which case what exactly did they mean? Or it’s a writing, typing, or autocorrect error for something else, in which case what?
In either scenario, grammar might be a mistake for grandma > gramma. In the first scenario, it is possible that the student naively understood ho to mean someone who is enthusiastic about some activity (contrast virgin, the someone who has never experienced some activity definition of which is widely recorded). The problem with this interpretation is that I can’t find any instance online of someone using ho to mean anything other than enthusiasm for sex, though there is a Pinterest board called Grammar Ho, which contains examples of “internet grammar”. The owner of the account doesn’t explain the name.
In the second scenario, I speculated that Gramarjo might be the name of an American Indigenous tribe, comparable to Navajo; for example, “My grandmother was quite the navy ho” (autocorrected from nava ho). Gramajo is a surname primarily found in Argentina, one bearer of which is commemorated in the Buenos Airean dish Revuelto Gramajo. The problem with this interpretation is that it really doesn’t fit into the sentence. My grandmother was a Gramajo makes sense, but My grandmother was quite the Gramajo doesn’t.
In the absence of any further context, it’s probably impossible to be sure of the intended meaning. The @stronglang Twitter account shared my query and received a number of suggestions, including enthusiastic about:
Maybe we need further context: My grandmother had posters of Otto Jespersen and Lord Randolph Quirk on her wall. She was a grammar ho. Or: My father’s family lived in Argentina. My grandmother was a grammar ho (Gramajo) and my grandfather was a guava (Guevara).
Further suggestions would be welcome.
* The last post on Shit My Students Write is dated May 2019, so it seems to be inactive.