The Grammarian’s Nightmare


When I sat down to begin this post I couldn’t settle on a name for it. Two were appropriate: The Grammarian’s Nightmare – or – A Dissertation on Blogger’s Rights

I went with the first. I decided it was more appropriate because it would likely peak the interest of a grammarian and no one is better suited to read this post than *most* ‘grammarians’. Other possibilities were A Plea From a Reformed Grammar Nazi, An Open Letter to Grammar Snotzies or Why I Enjoy Annoying Grammarians.

At any rate, the point is – if you are a grammarian, I am speaking to you.

I should warn you – there will be grammar errors, spelling errors grammar_being_more_awesome_funny_poster-r3467b6f1a74247ea9cc27bf706268c7c_wuj4r_8byvr_512and improper punctuation on this post. Most will be by accident, others intentional. Errors are not made to annoy you. No, not at all – this time. The fact that they’ll annoy you is just a bonus. They’ll be here because I am human, because I make mistakes and because I like to have fun.

The biggest reason they’ll be here is because, contrary to popular belief, YOU don’t own words, the English language or grammar. It’s a shock. I know…

I never thought I’d say this, but I have found a new and great respect for Stephen Fry. The man can be, and has been, vulgar and crass and – in most cases – completely opposite from me in beliefs. However, there have been a few times now that he’s said something that really impressed me… The first was when he made the point about people today announcing they’re offended. He said “…It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I’m offended by that.’ Well, so *** what?” More on that in another post, perhaps.

My most recent discovery, was a quote about language and grammar. Stephen Fry, the guy that has such a commanding voice and grasp of the English language, spoke out against ‘grammarians’ – referring to them as ‘pedants’ – a word I will use regularly now…

He said:

“…Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seem to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other people’s usage and in which they show off their own superior ‘knowledge’ of how language should be. I hate that…”

If running a blog and Facebook page, that is seen by less than 0.01% of the world, garners as much attention from these pedants grammar-spelling-online-reminders-ecards-someecardsas it does, I cannot imagine what life must be like for broadcasters and journalists. They must get tons of letters and emails from people letting them know they used an apostrophe where one wasn’t needed, used ‘badly’ incorrectly or any other thing under the sun.

“…[Pedants] are too — busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well, sod them to Hades. They think they’re guardians of language. They’re no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dog kind.”

I’ve even heard where church secretaries get calls from passers by letting them know of a mistake on their sign – by people who don’t even GO to the church or to church at all. I always feel compelled to ask “Who died and left you in charge of grammar?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know… You love the language and the use of language, so you want to protect it or spread your love of it to other people. To that I say “Poppycock!” That is complete bull malarky¹and most of you know it.

The fact that errors and typos are made – and sometimes overlooked by proof-readers –  hasn’t occurred to the pedants. They don’t allow for typos or the fact that you are in such a rush and panic to get out of your head and into words means you will unknowingly use the wrong ‘their’ or forget the apostrophe in ‘it’s’. Even more so, they confuse your Facebook post, silly picture or personal blog with the speech of a Nobel Prize winner or the latest printing of the Grapes of Wrath. They make no allowance for relaxed and lighthearted posts or comments.

“…‘He actioned it that day’ for instance might strike some as a verbing too far, but we have been sanctioning, envisioning, propositioning and stationing for a long time, so why not ‘action’? ‘Because it’s ugly,’ whinge the pedants. It’s only ugly because it’s new and you don’t like it. Ugly in the way Picasso, Stravinsky and Eliot were once thought ugly and before them Monet, Mahler and Baudelaire.”

It makes me wonder if, while on a play date at the local park, they correct the adult that’s sharing what happened the night before at their mother-in-law’s home. (Actually, I know one that does. Or I should say ‘did’ as it is one of the many reasons I no longer associate with them.) I wonder if, while a doctor is explaining to them their child’s illness and course of action, they interrupt the doctor mid-sentence saying “you mean my nurse and I” or “You mean, ‘couldn’t care less’, right?. Not could care less.” as though they weren’t clear on what was meant. I’m just waiting for the opportunity to use the “and I”/”and me” rule incorrectly. When it gets me a “you mean…” remark from a pedant, as though they need clarification, I’m going to turn it back on them.

Me – “Tom and me are going to the movies.”
Pedant – “You mean ‘Tom and *I* are going to the movies’…”
Me – “Really? When are you and Tom going to the movies?”

“…Pedants will also claim, with what I am sure is eye-popping insincerity and shameless disingenuousness, that their fight is only for ‘clarity’… The claim to be defending language for the sake of clarity almost never, ever holds water.”

And that’s reason #2 for why I hate Grammar Snotzies. (The first being it’s just rude.) They knew perfectly well what was meant. It’s not that I have enissophobia and I’m not sophophobic. Granted, I don’t want to be corrected in public – as though I’m six and haven’t learned about dangling participles. It’s condescending, regardless of the tone, and doesn’t help anyone. It only makes me want to speak wrong² – by purpose³. But, I digress…

When someone says “I went to lay down” the pedants know perfectly well what was meant before they ever say “Did you mean you went to ‘lie’ down?” There is NO other reason, especially in a relaxed environment, for correction like that. The meaning of what the person was saying was received. The correction, even though presented as a question – as though they needed clarification – wasn’t for clarification. It was for themselves.

What is even more annoying is when a child or teen corrects and adult’s grammar. I don’t care if I say the sky is purple. A child has no right to correct me. None. I absolutely abhor that from the bottom of my feet to 6 feet above my head. The things they have a right to correct me on is their name, address or birth date.[4]

I was once on a road trip with another mom and her 8 year old child. On the highway, I was a bit close to the center line and the semi-truck coming in the opposite directions was also close to the center line. It was a bit scary, so I jerked the wheel a bit to the right just on reflex. Harrison asked what happened. My friend’s 8 year old said “Your mom went over the center line.”

I said “No I didn’t.”
The 8 year old said “Yes you did.”
I said “No. I didn’t.”
The 8 year old said “Yes you did.”
I said “NO. I did NOT cross the center line.”

At which point the 8 year old did not respond and the mom said “Well, I guess she wasn’t that interested in being right.” (This is, by the way, the same mom I mentioned above who corrected my grammar all the time.) The fact that the child was wrong about what happened, not withstanding, had my child said “Yes you did” that first time – I would have corrected them, apologized to the mother and my young’un wouldn’t have been able to sit for a week. Again, I digress…

“…No, the claim to be defending language for the sake of clarity almost never, ever holds water. Nor does the idea that following grammatical rules in language demonstrates clarity of thought and intelligence of mind. You slip into a suit for an interview and you dress your language up too. You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends… But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There no right language or wrong language any more than are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention and circumstance are all.”

That’s the third reason I loathe hyper-correctors. They infer[5] that those who use bad grammar- especially in a relaxed social environment – are unintelligent, stupid or too lazy to learn the correct usage of words.

Sure, when you’re on a job interview, at school, taking tests, having a meeting, etc. your grammar shouldn’t be as silly and relaxed. You should put forth some effort to sound intelligent. But, just as I don’t wear business clothes while I’m hanging out at home or when I go to the movies with friends, I’m not going to use business words either. I’m going to just be comfortable. Why should my words not be comfortable as well?

Facebook is an extension of that. Facebook isn’t a novel that needs to be proofed and edited before printing. It’s not a classroom where people go to learn. There’s Kindle Books and Khan Academy for those things. My Facebook is my online home. It’s were I go to relax and hang with friends. However, continually being evicted from my online home makes me want to move, but that’s a whole other post…

I once, when talking with these captious people, would bring up how they have no idea if they’re correcting someone with a learning disorder, like dyslexia. Correcting a dyslexic – when they struggle already – was discouraging, not encouraging. It may convince them to give up or quit trying. But, the pedants reply with complaints about how whoever is being corrected should understand their need to correct and just allow it.

Ludicrous.

It’s not like I asked that you change the way you speak or type. I didn’t ask that you start using smaller words with letters that are less likely to be confused. No. I just asked for a little compassion. That’s it. Then I’m met with “Why should we? You don’t have compassion for us…” Of course I don’t. Why would I? You’re bullies 10.4.2012-I-try-to-keep-an-open-mindthat prey on those who you think are less smart because it makes you feel smarter. This is liberal territory right here. “You should tolerate my need to correct and be okay with it!”

“…They think they’re guardians of language. They’re no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dog kind.”

There’s the fourth reason I loathe these self appointed Grammar spokespeople is because they claim the language is changing and then what would we have? According to them – Chaos.

Again, nonsense.

If we didn’t allow for changes in language we’d still be speaking like Shakespeare and King James. Or maybe farther back than that. I get the exasperation one might have over words like ‘bootilicious’ making it into the dictionary and I understand why using text speak -when not on a phone to save time- isn’t something we should embrace. But the language changes. It evolves. We can still have form and flow. We can still balk at b4 becoming an acceptable spelling for ‘before’.

We shouldn’t, however, balk at scarfs being an acceptable alternate spelling of scarves. Or cancelling and canceling both being correct. Why? Because in the grand scheme of things – it doesn’t matter! We’ve not complete changed it to the point it looks like something else, so it doesn’t matter. Enjoy the language! Oh, and just so you know… ‘literally’ being used when ‘figuratively’ was meant is now in the dictionary as a definition and acceptable use of the word.

“…There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with joy at language? I doubt it. They’re too — busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe.”

Truly, if you’re so in love with the language – do something with it. Use it to bring joy, stories and happiness in the world. Not as a tool to puff yourself up.

And here’s the thing… Hyper-correctors want to be given a license to correct when they feel they need to.[6] I wonder, though, how they’d feel if an artist looked over their shoulder at the doodle they drew in their notebook and critiqued it. “Your doodle doesn’t make sense. You improperly shaded the focal point of your doodle because of the relation and location of the doodled sun and the focal doodle…”

Not only was the advice the artist gave not requested or needed, they may have succeeded in seeing that person never doodle again. Which may prevent them from pursuing the art of drawing through classes where a TEACHER will explain to them how to properly shade.

Honestly. It’s a doodle. It’s not the Mona Lisa!

[1] “Malarky” or “malarkey” is acceptable.
[2] Yes, “Incorrectly” should be used here instead of wrong. [3] “On accident” is considered incorrect. Therefor “on purpose” is also incorrect. If it’s done “by accident” then the same holds true for “by purpose”
[4] I know that “Are” is probably a better form of the verb for this sentence.
[5] Yes, the correct word should be “imply”
[6] It’s only wrong to end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing without the preposition.

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