Ten things to read before correcting someone's grammar
Are you a grammar or language fiend? Do you notice errant apostrophes, misuses of their/there/they're, and rage about txt spk? When you find a spelling mistake on a menu, do you let everyone within earshot know? Do you secretly (or not so secretly) think people with bad grammar are stupider or lazier than you? Have you ever criticized someone's mistakes on a forum, on Facebook or in any other informal medium? Do you wantonly share jokes about comma use and apostrophes? Do apparent mispronunciations of words make you apoplectic? What about words used incorrectly? If you've answered yes to any of the above, you are a grammar fiend or a language fiend, so this blog entry is just for you. Failure to heed this advice may result in smugness exploding your brain, or losing friends. Or, at the very least, looking like a dork. So, here you go: ten things you should read before correcting someone's language or grammar.*
1. Are YOU perfect? Unless your own grammar is so perfect that you'd win the gold medal at the grammar Olympics, you'll look like a dork pointing out someone else's mistakes. And be laughed at. Or mocked behind your back. Either way, best not say anything unless you're 100 per cent sure you're beyond reproach yourself. 2. Make sure your 'correction' is correct. However amusing this may be to others, being wrong when you correct someone isn't going to win you friends. In fact, if you make this mistake, you might as well wear a giant sign around your neck reading "Mock me!" A common mistake is being told to say "I" when "me" is correct. For example: Me: "Look at this photo of Dad and me." Grammar fiend: "Look at this photo of Dad and I."
Me: "Burn! You're wrong! Here's my spare "Mock me!" sign for you to wear. No, really. I insist." Another is the s's rule. I once sat next to a man in a pub who moaned at length about the "grammatically incorrect" title Bridget Jones's Diary. If he'd put as much energy into reading up about the apostrophe rule as he did moaning about the common misuse of it, he would know that the title is not a grammatical faux-pas as either Jones' or Jones's is fine. I wish I'd had the "Mock me!" sign on hand then. 3. It might just be personal preference ... While there are definite rules in grammar, some boils down to personal preference. If you don't believe me, I challenge you to gather 100 grammar fiends in a room, and ask them if the Oxford Comma should be banned. Then, run away. 4. .... or a different accent. Whether it's a to-may-to or a to-ma-ta does not change the fact that it is small, red and delicious with tuna in sandwiches. Pronunciation of words has evolved over time too, or we'd all say "wed-nes-day", and "waps" for "wasp". 5. Just because someone's made a grammatical error, that doesn't mean everything else they write is wrong. Nor does it mean that you win the argument. The only exception is if someone is arguing that they ought to have won the gold medal in the grammar Olympics or the like. In fact, I wish there could be a buzzword like Godwin's Law that would mean an internet debate is instantly lost by a party if they criticise another's grammar when it has no relevance to the discussion at hand. I'd call it the "Law of Dorks". Named, of course, after the dorks who do this. 6. Language evolves. Nothing has enraged the language fiends in recent years more than the meaning of the word 'literally' being updated in the Oxford English Dictionary. So now I could say that I literally ate a million marshmallows and am now literally the size of Mars, whereas I couldn't say that last year. Just like 'gay' has a different meaning now, and 'choose' used to be 'chuse'. Language evolves. If it hadn't, we'd all be able to understand Beowulf and Chaucer. 7. There are many reasons why someone may have made a mistake. Smartphones, auto correct, writing in a hurry, writing with a toddler on your lap**, bad teachers at school, English as a second language, learning difficulties. These things don't mean that the person isn't as smart as you, or wouldn't pick up their own mistake on closer inspection. 8. There are nice ways to make corrections. Say you spot a mistake on a menu. There are two ways of dealing with this: A) Making loud scoffing noises while pointing out the mistakes to whoever you're with, accompanied by eye-rolling and muttering about morons and a bad education system. OR B) Speaking quietly to whoever's in charge, with no-one else in earshot, and saying that "it's not a big deal but I thought you'd like to know ... " Obviously, the second is better. If you are guilty of the former, you run the risk of looking like a dork. 9. What are the implications of not correcting the other person? Is the mistake on a banner they plan to attach to a small plane and fly around the countryside? Or in a tattoo? If so, it's probably best to correct them. Is the mistake in a personal shopping list, a Facebook update or a text message? These are times it's probably best to keep quiet. 10. Ask yourself - why am I correcting the other person? Is it because you love language and love to educate? Or is it because, deep down, you want to feel superior? Are you looking to teach or disempower? Good grammar isn't a sign of intelligence, it's just a sign of someone who has learnt the rules. Thinking otherwise is like remembering the details of all the Presidents of the USA and fancying yourself an expert in US history. So, grammar fiend - heed these rules! If not, I suggest investing in a giant "Mock Me!" sign. Literally.
* Of course, unless you are proof reading for work. ** This can be blamed for many of my mistakes
First blogged here