Shmanguage

I don’t understand it. (You should know that sometimes when I say “I don’t understand,” I mean that I do understand, but I’m just not particularly happy about the conclusion.) All too frequently, I see people acting as the grammar police of the universe; they scour worlds real, social, and virtual for every misspelling, usage error, and made up word and publicize their findings to the fullest extent of their broadcast reach. Whether they (or you, I don’t know) do this as a service to the general intellectual health of the public or as punishment to those who dare trample on the sacred ground of the English language or as a self-pleasuring stroke to their own egos, I really do not know or care. (Okay, maybe I have a pretty good idea, and I obviously care enough to write about it, but to the latter point, you should know I did start writing this in 2011 . . . so I don’t care that much.)

What I do know is it’s annoying as hell. As someone who has made a living correcting errors and improving the condition of the collections of words that crossed my gaze (and who reads The Chicago Manual of Style for pleasure), I notice and dislike grammatical and spelling errors quite a lot. I am also guilty of making them. But I rarely call attention to the mistakes of anyone who is not me. I mean I. Quite frankly, it isn’t my place to do so. I dislike flaws in grammar far less than I despise arrogance and treating people like Less Thans over the way they spell or speak or write.

The point of usage, grammar, spelling, whatever is to communicate effectively. That’s it. Using the objective case in the subject of one’s (or is it ones?) sentences is no sin. It’s a simple mistake which has not once in the history of mankind caused the least bit of confusion in communication. So what, in the name of the Associated Press and their unholy abandonment of the Oxford Comma, is the point of correcting people’s grammar when you understand perfectly what they’re trying to say? Hmm. Let’s examine the possible answers.

To improve the way they communicate? A) That’s not your job (if it is, please, go right ahead). B) They can obviously communicate just fine. You understood not only what they were saying but also the so-called proper way to say it.

To make them better people? Yes, because the true measure of a woman or a man is adherence to a style guide.

To put an end to the evils of bad usage and poor spelling? I’m so glad you chose to replace those evils with bad manners and poor taste.

Please stop.

There are some instances when public (or even one-on-one) grammar/spelling correction is called for. If you’re a grammar teacher, for instance. Or an editor in the act of editing something, NOT just having a conversation with someone. If you are a parent, it is perfectly acceptable to correct your children’s grammar. It is your job to teach them. If you are working with someone who is about to enter a social or professional situation in which a blunder would cause embarrassment, please do feel free to gently and kindly alert said someone to the mistake. But come on. In most instances, this is not what any of you grammar correctionistas are doing, and you know it.

Oh, and that reminds me: let people make up words. Every word in every language was made up by someone at some point. There is absolutely no reason to stop now. Language is living, and it should grow accordingly. Don’t ever stop making up words. Don’t ever discourage others from making up word. Look what happened to Latin.

Now, I understand I must sound hypocritical (or hypercritical) as I publicly correct your manners for publicly correcting someone’s grammar. And, yeah, I can see that. I suppose it’s not my place to tell you how to live any more than it’s your place to tell other people how to communicate. But I will say this: the people who say supposably instead of supposedly aren’t hurting anyone. They’re getting their points across. They aren’t hurting you, you’re just being overly critical, which is your fault not theirs. But what you’re doing? You’re making people feel stupid to make yourself feel smart (or one of the other reasons, I don’t really know). That’s a bigger offense in my book.

But I’ll make you a deal. I’ll never bring this up again. I don’t make it a habit to correct people for correcting other people’s grammar. Typically, the only time I say anything to the grammar Nazis is when they are wrong. People who incorrectly correct other people’s grammar are just too (or two) wrong to allow. For instance: “You’re not nauseous, you’re nauseated.” They’re synonyms, jackwad. If you count yourself more authoritative than Merriam-Webster, I find your arrogance nauseating. Use nauseous or nauseated or nauseating according to your preference. Don’t correct people for preferring another perfectly acceptable and common way to express the same idea. Or people who say things like, “Can you have an apple? I don’t know, can you? Say ‘may I’ next time.” Guess what? Can and may are interchangeable in that context. And someone can feel good, not just feel well. If you correct someone for using good in place of well in that case because an adverb is needed to modify the verb well, you should be slapped and slapped well. Well and good modify the subject in such a sentence, not the verb as feel is a linking verb. Either will suffice. See? Look what you made me do. Now I’m correcting people’s grammar, too. Kind of.

Anyway. Consider this a brief timeout from my general preference to silence such objections. I’ll stop correcting you. Now please, for the love of Webster, stop correcting everyone else.