Split Infinitives, Affect vs. Effect, Comma Splices, Passive Voice, Semicolons, Colons, Improper Capitalization, and don’t even get me started on the Oxford Comma. The prior list contains common grammar missteps, except the Oxford Comma which is more of a hand grenade you can throw into a room of writers to start a fight. Bottom line, we’ve all fallen victim to these mistakes while talking or writing, or both. I make mistakes literally all the time. Even in that last sentence when I misused literally. But no big deal, right?
If you’ve ever written a book, you know someone is out there waiting to correct your every mistake. I’ve seen actual social media posts where people have said they stopped reading a book because they found some typos. Maybe they’ll point it out at book club, put it in their Goodreads book review, or even DM you to really get their point across. Their argument always seems to be that the mistakes pulled them out of the story, but if all it takes to pull you out of a story is a typo then that book probably isn’t for you anyway. And you non-authors aren’t safe either. I constantly see comments pointing out perceived mistakes on people’s social media posts. So tweet, text, share, and post at your own risk.
Why do we correct other people’s grammar? It’s a question with an easy answer. While some of these grammar grumps say they’re—and that’s ‘they’re’ not ‘their’—being helpful, we all know the real reason, which is the undeniable fact that it’s fun to be right when someone else is wrong. And if you deny that you like being right, I bet your spouse/partner would disagree 😉
We know why we do it. The real question is if we should. Disagree if you like, but I would say that 99.9% of the time the answer is No. Unless, like an editor, it is literally your job to correct someone’s writing/speech, remember that the main goal of communication is to understand and be understood. If you know what the person meant, then the communication was successful. Being quick to jump on peoples’ typos and grammar errors will make a person resort to silence and I, for one, don’t want to silence people because of something trivial like they said irregardless instead of regardless. Yes, technically, irregardless isn’t a word, but you know what the person meant when they said it. So, just let it go.
Not only is being a grammar grump kind of mean, but it may also be poor judgment. The Bible doesn’t say pride cometh before a fall for no reason. For every two online comments correcting someone’s grammar, one of those grammar correctors is actually wrong. And even if they aren’t totally wrong, a lot of time, the issue is more complicated than they think. Have we not all been inundated with the ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’ rhyme? There’s a ‘rule’ that’s wrong more times than it’s right. Just ask your weird neighbor, Keith, who likes foreign films and coffee without caffeine.
I love words and because of that, I’m always checking out podcasts about language and writing. One of my favs is ‘Word Matters.’ The hosts of this podcast include Ammon Shea, Peter Sokolowski, Neil Serven, and Emily Brewster. All of these lexicographers work for Merriam-Webster. You know, the dictionary people. And one of them actually spent a year reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary and then proceeded to write a book about the experience. If anyone has the right to be a grammar grump, it’s these guys. And yet, in listening to them, I feel like they are the least judgmental voices I’ve heard when it comes to grammar mistakes. They’ve even come to the defense of the alleged ‘wrong’ among us by saying things like ‘if everyone gets it wrong it’s not wrong anymore.’ Enough people have said irregardless that we all know what it means. And if we all know what it means is it still wrong?
I know some of you are squirming in your seats at all of this and ready to demand whether I am suggesting we just throw out all the rules and let the English language descend into chaos. I assure you I am not. We should all strive to better communicate and part of that may be learning the different grammar guidelines out there and when they are appropriate to use. After all, the hiring manager at the job you just applied for isn’t going to be as forgiving as me about your cover letter. I’m just saying that when we feel the urge to comment on someone’s language and grammar, we should all stop and think. More often than not, we aren’t doing it to be helpful. Ask yourself if you understand what is being communicated, and if you do, let it go because it’s mean and you may not know what you think you know. Lay down your grammar weapons and be kind, folks.
What do you think? Comment below to join the discussion. And while you’re here, be sure to stop on my CONTACT page and sign up to receive January’s newsletter for a chance to win the GIVEAWAY!