Over the years I have corrected a lot of people. I have been the person who rants about misplaced apostrophes, confused homophones, needless truncations or abbreviations, and other abuses of the English language common in modern usage.
I have posted photos that ridicule mistakes in signage and other print materials and I have joined with others who point and laugh at errors shared through social media, but recently I started to turn a corner.
Thanks to Stephen Fry’s reflection on language I recognized that suggesting my knowledge of grammar makes me a better person is an annoying and rather embarrassing habit. And you know what? It’s like shedding a whole layer of stress. I haven’t quite kicked the internal tic that manifests when I see “Your Invited” but even if I never do, learning to accept casual grammar errors feels a lot better.
The core of Fry’s rant is that there is a difference between how we write when it “matters” for resumes, manuscripts, or press releases versus how we compose casual interactions such as comments, status updates, tweets, and yes, even the average blog post. He suggests one can “wear what you like, linguistically,” when among friends. That simple image, comparing language to clothing, is what changed my mind.
He goes on to say that complaining about grammar, spelling and punctuation is a waste of time when the author’s meaning is clear. It is one thing to understand the different meaning of two similar words and quite another to publicly put someone down who either may not understand or who may have simply misspoken or mistyped. Fry repeatedly refers to these critics as pedants which is, not surprisingly, the perfect term. A pedant is someone who puts excessive emphasis on minor details, especially academic knowledge or formal rules. It is not a label I wish to wear.
So, when I see an email with the subject line “Your Invited” I will not reply-all “my invited what?” because the snark only serves to belittle the author. It’s petty and unkind, especially when accompanied by the public spanking of the reply-all. There are times when it is appropriate to correct or educate someone but humiliation is not particularly useful as a teaching tool.
I will not carry my red pen with me to make edits as I go, running roughshod over others’ work. There is a time and a place for editing, and it is generally better to be invited to do so before making corrections.
I am giving up my Grammar Queen crown, or at least putting it on a shelf in the cupboard where I won’t look at it every day. On the other hand, I’m still going to steer clear of YouTube comments; no point tempting the tiger.
I tend to scribble a lot – by Nic McPhee on Flickr
Double Whammy – by Dauvit Alexander on Flickr