The correct response, when confronted with someone correcting your grammar, syntax or spelling, is an appeal to authority (Shakespeare) with a simultaneous request for their contradictory evidence from a superior authority (confident in the knowledge there is no greater authority on the written word). This may not work when it comes to obvious spelling or punctuation mistakes – but it should help keep the wolves at bay.
I have two slightly contradictory pet peeves. On one hand, I hate reading bad grammar – particularly their/there/they’re, its/it’s and your/you’re. This is mostly because I hate making the mistake myself. I feel so incredibly stupid when an error is pointed out. I think, deep down, that I am a perfectionist. On the other hand – I hate when people point out bad grammar – mine or otherwise. Nothing raises my online hackles more than the superiority of a grammar pedant. I tried being one once. It didn’t make me feel nice. I don’t know how others can do it – it must come from hating bad grammar more than one hates appearing like a complete and utterly superior prig.
If knowing how stupid you feel when someone points out your error does not stop you pointing out the errors of others (sticks, logs and all that jazz), and if you’re so sure that you will never make your own scorn worthy mistake so that you run no risk of hypocrisy, then perhaps you should continue reading – and remember that people actually think less of you when you correct your/their friends in public. Not more.
I will say that I think the exception to this rule is when an institution makes a mistake – and the closer the institution is to the rules of grammar the funnier it is. When governments have grammar style guides and stuff up bridge inscriptions that is funny. When we laugh at Chinese translators mangling English while making their country more open to visitors that is cultural imperialism.
I’ve read a couple of articles today courtesy of Twenty Two words that helpfully reminded me that being a “Grammar Nazi” does not make one superior – nor does it actually make somebody a better writer. Imagine how the very Bard himself would be remembered if he had bowed to the pressure of the grammar pedants of his day.
Firstly, grammar pedants speak too early too often and provide no evidence for their claims. They expect us to sit idly by and accept their views on the movable feast of language while providing not a skerrick nor shred of corroboration for their claims. Up with this I shall not put.
Here’s an article that compares grammar experts with etiquette experts who make claims and then move the goal posts when someone disagrees.
This article provides recourse for people like me who want to rid themselves of pesky comments from friends who suffer from badgrammaritis (symptoms include the inability to let bad grammar pass unpunished).
We have all heard admonitions at some point or other that the word unique cannot be modified — a thing is either unique or it is not. This would be considerably more convincing if it were not so obviously untrue, as people modify unique quite frequently, and have done so for a long time. Through the magic of Google Books you can now search through enormous numbers of books and magazines from the 19th century and see literally hundreds of writers who use more unique, less unique and even that bugbear of the purists, somewhat unique.
(And speaking of literally, the next time someone tells you that it cannot be used to mean aught but literal, you might point out that it has been used in various figurative and nonliteral senses for hundreds of years, by such literary figures as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Richard Milhous Nixon.)
The article points out that most grammar conventions and corrections are given without any sense of evidence – in fact, on Facebook where both bad grammar and pedantry runs rampant, corrections are given with a sense of superior satisfaction but no reference to any rules or conventions that actually back up the criticism.
The erudite conclusion from the NY Times article is proof that a predilection for pedantry does not give you the exclusive rights to good writing. It’s today’s rule breakers who become tomorrow’s rule makers. To use an analogy – pedants are the engineers of the writing world while the rest of us are the artistes – the architects and interior designers, the painters, the landscapers and the Feng Shui consultants.
So I say outpedant the pedants, and allow yourself to gluttonously revel in the linguistic improprieties of yore as you familiarize yourself with the nearly unique enormity of the gloriously mistaken heritage that our literature is comprised of. For those of you keeping score at home, that last sentence contained a verbal noun, a split infinitive, an improper -ize, an inflectional comparative, a blatantly misleading word choice, at least one example of catachresis, an unnecessarily passive construction — and it ended with a preposition. All of which I’m willing to bet appear in Shakespeare.