“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 III

. . .Continued from Part I, June 14, and Part II, June 29. Those posts can be accessed by clicking on “Grits” in the right column.

Still Tied

The tally on whether grits is or are is even. So, let’s keep going.

First, the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, 29th edition, The Associated Press press, 1994: I’m quoting. “WORDS PLURAL IN FORM, SINGULAR IN MEANING: Some take singular verbs: measles, mumps, news. Others take plural verbs: grits, scissors.

Score one more for are.

Second, The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition) tells you to look it up in the dictionary. Well, o.k., cowards.


Let’s start with Webster’s New World Dictionary for Young Readers, 1976. Grits is starred as being an American English word meaning “coarsely ground wheat or corn.”  They tag it plural.

One more for are.

Then there’s The American Heritage dic tion ar y of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000: Grits (grits) pl.n. (used with a singular or plural verb)

One more for are and one more for is.

Grammar Books

We’ll start with a really EARLY one: English Grammar, G.P. Quackenbos (I am not making this up), New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1871.

The Preface by the author is dated 1862, almost 10 years before publication. I guess the Civil War delayed publication or Quakenbos didn’t want to give the South any free PR:

In offering the present Grammar to the public, the author [never refer to yourself personally was a rule much in vogue in 1871] begs leave to refer to the work itself [his own book] as the best exponent of those peculiarities [his own views of grammar, as stated in the previous paragraph] by which it [this book] is to be approved or condemned. . . .

Oh BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, boring. I’ll put the rest in a footnote.

So, all that said, let’s see what Quackenbos says about grits. On page 43 of the yellowed, fragile pages, he says:

91. Singular Nouns. – The following nouns have no plural: --

3. The names of many articles sold by weight or measure; as, flax, lard, lead, cider, milk, pitch, rye.”

While he does NOT specifically cite grits, we in the South know grits were sold by weight or measure; he was from and lived in New York before the Civil War. If he didn’t even know grits existed, how could he have included them in his list?

Then he lists plural nouns that have no singular. Again, grits is/are not on his list, but greens are.

So, what can we conclude? Oh, hell, nothing. But for fun, we’ll give is a vote.

Finally, I turned to a grammar book that was revised in 1952 by Dr. James B. McMillan, who was my graduate school linguistics professor at The University of Alabama. The UA Press's building  is named for Dr. McMillan. If anyone knew, he knew. It’s Writing and Thinking, published by The Riverside Press in Cambridge. I call that credible.

In the section about subject/verb agreement, p. 111, McMillan says:

Use a singular verb with most nouns which are plural in form but singular in meaning.

Note: Many nouns with a plural form may be either singular or plural in meaning.

Almost always singular: economics, . . . mathematics, . . .measles, mumps, news. . . .

No grits. But, in contradiction to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, if grits is like news, it’s singular. One more for is.

Is is up by one, I think. Like, who cares. This calls for a recipe.

Cajun Grits


Talk About Good!: Le Livre de la Cuisine de Lafayette (25th Anniversary edition. Junior League of LaFayette 1992), like many Junior League cookbooks from across America, is an all-around good cookbook and has plenty of grits and hominy recipes for future posts. Here’s one:

Grits Bread (p. 118)

3 c. cooked grits                    4 beaten eggs

1 c. uncooked corn meal           milk as needed

1 Tbsp. baking powder               1 stick butter [Remember this ingredient.]

salt to taste                                       cooked sausage or bacon

Mix cooked grits, corn meal, baking powder, salt and eggs together. Add a small amount of milk, only enough for mixture to be a thick consistency. Cover bottom of baking pan with cooking oil, add mixture. Top with margarine [butter?] and sausage or bacon. Cook one hour at 400 degrees.            Mrs. Richard Williams

Remember the butter? The recipe says to cover the bottom of the baking pan with oil; then it says to top with margarine Where does 1 stick of butter go? One stick is a lot. So here’s my suggestion. Drop the oil and margarine. Use some of the butter for the bottom of the baking pan; then top the bread with butter; then butter the bread for toast with butter. Have we about used it all up?

Now it doesn’t make a damn whether grits IS or ARE. Eat ‘em and the war’s over.

FOOTNOTE: The Quackenbos book. Warning: It’s boring.

“Grammar has hitherto been a dry and hard subject to teach [as is this man’s writing]. It is here sought to make it [grammar] easy and interesting by combining practice with theory, example with precept, on a more liberal scale than has heretofore generally been done. . . .[Now I’m really eager to dig into the book’s details.]

Words are classified as parts of speech solely and exclusively according to their use in the sentence. This course does away with all arbitrary distinctions, and enables the pupil to classify words readily and correctly for himself.” [The italics are Quackenbos’s, not mine-o’s.]

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