Confessions of a Recovering Grammar Nazi

I have better grammar than you do.  It’s just a fact.

I’m a grown woman whose preferred method of laundry is spraying Febreeze on my clothes, I electrocuted myself the other day with a curling iron, and I barely know how a mop works, but I’ll be damned if I don’t use the conditional subjunctive properly every. single. time.

Sometimes people try to point out an error in my grammar and they get wrecked with the grammatical truth.  And it’s not even some lame excuse about how it’s colloquial now to say, “better than me.”  Excuse me while I whip out some antiquated edition of a style handbook you’ve never heard of¹ and rain a hurricane of usage and syntax on your ass as to why that collective noun you pointed out is actually plural, and, therefore, agrees with its verb.

the-elements-of-style

Again: I can’t go a week without inadvertently stepping in front of a speeding vehicle, and it’s a modern miracle that I have kept myself alive to this point, but I can use a semi-colon in 30 different ways.  The point is, if you’re going to try to correct my grammar, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Was I always this insufferable?  No.  I used to be far worse.  Imagine a less attractive Hermione Granger whining about how friends on Facebook captioned their photos, “A picture of Susan and I.”  For Christmukkah when I was 13 and my sister 11, my parents gifted her a makeup palette and trendy clothes; I received a calculator and a thesaurus.  I cannot make this up.

At some point I realized that correcting, “Hey, me and David are going to the mall–wanna come?” was a surefire way to get un-invited to the mall.  And thus began the suppression of my savant-like knowledge of English grammatical construction.

Why do we feel the onus of responsibility for pointing out others’ grammar mistakes?  Unless a person has tasked us with teaching him or her about writing and language, it stands to reason that these corrections are largely unsolicited and unwanted.  Furthermore, the acquisition period for grammar and syntax typically closes before a person reaches adulthood; therefore, we can maintain no pretense of altruism in our nagging.

So why do we do it?  To embarrass and humiliate?  To lord over someone our superior knowledge?

In the latter case, I would like to highlight that many self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazis” wield their supposed control over just one language–a feat demonstrably less impressive when compared with those of the polyglots of the world.

And yet, we push on, correcting people’s grammar although they don’t want it, although the corrections won’t help them improve, and although it is a miserable metric for our own intelligence.

Maybe grammar isn’t half as important as we think it is.  I honestly don’t see the English language deteriorating into linguistic No Man’s Land without strict adherence to the rules of grammar.  Even sentences with the most egregious mistakes still convey the author’s intended meaning–if I said, “I go store,” you would still get my point.  “But what about tenses?” you might say.  Yesterday, I go store.²

This is to say nothing of the more esoteric rules to which we are bound.  Nobody would seriously confuse the subject of the sentence, “Gesticulating wildly, the podium shook as the candidate delivered his impassioned speech.”  The same goes for split infinitives, using “which” as a relative pronoun, and distinguishing between “less” and “fewer.”  If I give less craps than you about grammar, you’re going to catch my meaning regardless.  …IRREGARDLESS.

Of course there will be some errors that cause enough ambiguity that they alter or otherwise obfuscate the meaning of a sentence.  Might I recommend, then, asking for clarification instead of being an insufferable douche canoe about it.

But, some of my opponents might argue, what if being less of a raging jerk about grammar leads us down a path of total language annihilation, where communication is impossible, and there’s nothing to separate us from the apes, flinging feces at each other?

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We should probably separate ourselves more from monkeys, because those things are brutal.

I think this concern stems from an inherent need for boundaries, for order and infrastructure in an otherwise chaotic institution that governs our interpersonal relations.  Yet, we clamor feebly to codify the rules of an entity that, by its nature, is constantly evolving.  It might do us well the next time we are tempted to correct someone to remember that our predecessors would probably be aghast at our bastardization of the English tongue, and hold ours.

 

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  1. Yes, I know this is wrong.  It’s colloquial.
  2. This was a particularly convenient argument during my respite in Colombia, where I learned enough Spanish not to starve and get raped and pillaged and die, but could hablar solamente en el presente.  I said es por que vivo en el presente siempre!
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