Remembering My Mentor, Lydel SimsPosted: May 3, 2008
As a beginning freelancer, I was extremely lucky to have as my mentor Lydel Sims, a columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. In addition to writing his daily humor column, Lydel taught writing classes at what was then Memphis State University (now University of Memphis) and in later years he wrote columns on word usage for several publications. I profited from all those efforts, reading and enjoying every day his humorous view of the human condition, taking several of his classes (and selling my first articles as a result), and depending on many of his grammar columns to help make my articles as good as I could make them.
Lydel was also an acclaimed book author, journalist, poet and freelance magazine writer. When I first signed up for his feature writing class, he took under his wing this timid, formerly stay-at-home mother of five, and introduced me to the wide world of writing. He made suggestions to improve my work, he encouraged me to study for a journalism degree, and he gave me the boost I needed to become a selling writer. He gave similar support to every student in his class. We all learned a lot about a lot of things from him — and especially to appreciate to the fullest his low-key humor.
Some of his now-yellowed-with-age grammar columns are tucked away in my bookshelf and I pull them out from time to time to refresh my memory about what he wrote about words and correct usage, and to remember the role he played in my writing life. Here are two excerpts from his columns:
A reader wrote him:
Sir: I know it is not correct to say, “I feel badly about it,” but what about the word “strong”? It seems rather awkward to say, “I feel strong about it.” Is it proper to use the adverb “strongly” in this case?
Yes, indeed, because this is an entirely different situation.
When you say, “I feel bad,” that’s like saying, “I feel good” — you’re using a linking verb followed by a predicate adjective to describe yourself, specifically your sense of happiness or health.
Similarly, when you say, “I feel strong,” you are describing your physical state.
“I feel strongly,” on the other hand, has nothing to do with your health, but with your attitude. “Strongly” here is not a predicate adjective but an adverb, and is clearly the word you want in your example. Go ahead and feel as strongly as you wish.”
Another reader wrote:
Sir: You press people have been called “the Fourth Estate.” Can you explain the origin of this expression and why you came in only fourth?
The expression comes from Britain, whose traditional three estates were the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and Commons. According to Carlyle, Edmund Burke referred to the three estates in a speech in Parliament and then added: “But in the reporters’ gallery yonder there sits a fourth estate more important far than all.”
It’s only fair to note that, even earlier, an English writer said the Fourth Estate was “The Mob.” Journalists seldom tell anybody that, but who asked?
I spoke with Lydel about a year before he died and told him how much he had influenced me and my writing. By that time I had earned my journalism degree and been a newspaper reporter and a magazine editor before turning to full-time freelancing. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his support for me as a beginning writer and later on as a journalist and editor. I’m glad I made that phone call.
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© 2008 by Laverne Daley