“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

The Grits Grammar War in Three Part Hominy -- Part II

In Part I, posted June 14, we asked the question: “Is they or are they?” Grits, that is. The answer remained unclear. To continue. . .

Craig Claiborne, originally from Mississippi, became one of the King’s of Culinary America and food editor for The New York Times. He was a grits heavyweight and weighed in on the Grits Grammar War, taking a firm stand on whether grits is/are singular/plural. In an August 23, 1976, Times piece, in which his Southern and writing good manners show in his refusal to refer to himself as I, Craig Claiborne, took his stand. Notice also what a gentleman he is.

Compare his demeanor to that of blowhard Rush Limbaugh, who in my opinion, may be behind this resurgence of the Grits War as a way of defaming the Obama’s and getting revenge on the Dems for naming him head of the GOP. The subject can be polarizing. Claiborne wrote:

(We) felt notably secure in stating recently that grits, that celebrated Southern cereal, constituted a plural noun. We staunchly defend this opinion; but we do feel moved to give the opposition a moment of self defense. We heard from a fellow Mississippian, who shall go nameless as follows:

“I wonder whether you [Craig Claiborne] have quietly fallen victim of a Yankee malaise, one which causes even editors of dictionaries, alas, to refer to grits as a plural noun. . . . [You need to] come back home where grits is IT, not them. Do Yankees refer to those oatmeal? Does one eat one grit or many? Isn’t it supposed at least by tradition, to be a singularly singular noun? Please say it’s so.”


One for are and one for is. The unnamed source from Mississippi has a point: I am diligently searching the dictionaries, style manuals, and grammar books in my spare time for the answer so that you don’t have to; I’ll reveal the answer as it reveals itself.

Remember, by the way, “cain’t” is a very Southern way of saying “can’t.” Northerners will probably get used to that about the time they get used to grits.

Is/are grits a collective noun or do you look under “Plurals” in stylebooks and manuals? Since Claiborne wrote for The New York Times, let’s start there.

Style Manuals

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. Times Books, 1999.

Under “number of subject and verb,” pgs. 234-235: Sums of money are usually treated as singular because the focus is on the sum. . . . Ten dollars buys less now than five did then.

Aside: I wonder when “then” was back in 1999! Does ten dollars still buy less now in the Recession than five did then? I wonder if “then” might be ten years later, or NOW, 2009!

Under “Plurals,” p. 262: Some words that are plural in form have singular meanings: measles; news. They take singular verbs.

But then the manual gives a couple of words ending in s that can be either singular or plural, depending on use, like ethics and politics. I guess it stands to reason, since politics is/are so confusing anyway. So, no score from here.

A Tie and a Recipe

So far it’s tied. This is a good place to pause with a great Claiborne soup and grits recipe before going on to more style manuals, dictionaries, and grammar books in Part III coming soon.

In a March 2, 1967, New York Times piece, Claiborne recounted visiting with a Montgomery, Ala., “stately matron,” Mrs. Wiley Hill, Jr., in her Southern mansion where she served She-crab and Lobster Soup paired with Grits Soufflé.

She-crab and Lobster Soup

4 cups Italian style plum tomatoes 1 cup shelled green peas

1 cup milk 2 cups heavy cream

1 pound lump crab meat one-and-one-half-pound lobster, cooked

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Cayenne pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup plus 6 tablespoons dry sherry wine 6 tablespoons whipped cream

Paprika Finely chopped parsley

1. Cook the tomatoes over moderate heat until reduced to a paste, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning.

2. Cook peas in salted water to cover until tender. Put through a sieve or food mill and add to tomatoes.

3. Add milk, cream and crab meat. Remove all meat from lobster shell and cut into bite-size pieces. Add to stew. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, ginger, Worcestershire sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, one hour. Add one-half cup sherry.

4. When ready to serve, add one tablespoon sherry to each of six heated soup bowls. Ladle soup over and garnish each serving with a tablespoon of whipped cream sprinkled with paprika and parsley.

Grits Soufflé

2 cups milk 4 cups grits, cooked according to package direction and cooled to room temperature

Salt to taste 8 eggs, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring the milk just to a boil and stir into grits. Add salt. Beat egg yolks and stir into grits mixture.

3. Whip the whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Butter a two-quart baking dish that is not more than six inches high, and pour mixture into it. Set the dish in a pan of hot water and bake 45 minutes to an hour. Serve immediately.

The search for an answer to the grammar mystery and a Cajun grits recipe will be coming soon.

In the meantime, we will raise our grits to America on its 2009 Birthday in the next post.


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