Speak No Evil

A tongue-in-cheek critique of the three types of people who show their faces when it comes to grammar.

Is it just me or has grammar become rather popular lately? Weird Al’s newest album topped the charts with its song about grammar recently. The Oatmeal has several comics specifically about grammar. And the level of memes I’ve seen that condemn people’s mistakes with your and you’re is mind staggering. What’s going on here? Grammar used to dredge up thoughts of dusty books and equally dusty teachers, boring students to within an inch of their lives. So is it cool now? Short answer: yes. And with all things cool, kids are sticking their hands in it. These types can be classified into three groups: grammar mavens, grammar nazis, and grammar connoisseurs.

*shudder

*shudder

Weird Al is a grammar maven. He’s all about repeating the grammar rules his teacher taught him in the 3rd grade. He resists any kind of change in the English language. It seems to me that Weird Al is concerned with a decline of the English language. That Internet and text message vernacular such as using b for be and u for you, or abbreviating phrases like lol and brb are destroying the language. It’s no secret that many people believe this, not just Weird Al. However, calling it a decline or a destruction exposes them as a bit dogmatic; attaching a subjective evaluation to what is objectively only a change. And if there is one permanent characteristic of English, it’s that it changes. In any event, people nowadays do seem to worry that English is becoming something less desirable for them. I wonder if the Modernists lamented this same change from Victorian English, or if the Victorians longed for Shakespearean English, or if Shakespeare wanted to talk like Chaucer, or if . . . well, you get the picture.

No, not him...

No, not him…

However, most people who are spouting grammar rules all over the internet aren’t concerned with a decline of the English language; they just want to sound superior over someone. These are the Grammar Nazis. Ripping apart someone’s grammar gaff on the internet is the highlight of their day. These are the people behind all those malicious memes. But who are these memes targeted at? The incompetent native speakers? Ignorant non-native speakers? Or simply the average person who’s being a little sloppy. It’s all of them, of course, but the first and last groups are the ones who produce the errors people seem to get so angry over (your for you’re, or misusing literally). When it’s a learner of English making goofs it’s obvious they don’t know better, due to the nature of the error (subject verb agreement or misplaced adjectives). Being a grammar nazi is not cool. You never want to be compared to a Nazi. In fact, most grammar nazis can probably be fooled into making gaffs themselves. The next time you find yourself confronted by one of these types, ask them what it means to ‘peruse with an air of decadence’. If they say to ‘browse with the quality of refined culture’, then you can haughtily correct them, it really means to ‘examine in detail with a quality of decay or moral degeneration’. Or give them one of the hundreds of Shakespeare’s sentences that bend grammar every which way; such as using nouns as verbs, creating unheard of compounds, or using multiple negations.

still a bit uppity

still a bit uppity

So is there a correct way to espouse grammar on the internet? Sure there is, just look at The Oatmeal. First off, The Oatmeal isn’t attacking anyone, he’s just putting out some helpful (and humorous) grammar guides because, I assume, it’s obvious to him that many people could use them. Also, he’s gone out of his way in a couple of comics to denounce grammatical grievances about language that don’t cause communication breakdowns; which is much more eloquently conveyed in his quote about using irony: “If someone misuses it, you probably knew what they meant and you’re just sharpshooting their example to make yourself look smart. Instead, shut your useless pie hole and go find something better to do.” I think I’ll proposition The Oatmeal to begin a party of grammar liberals, so we can have revelry together, and joke at the expense of grammar conservatives.

But in any event, whether you’re a grammar maven, Nazi, or a connoisseur, here are three tips to keep in mind for your (and my) sanity:

  1. Just because someone used your when they should have used you’re, doesn’t meant they don’t know the difference; Give them a break, we all make mistakes.
  2. Before you shudder with disgust when you see someone using literally to mean figuratively, think to yourself if you’ve ever used the words awesome, terrific, or fabulous, because they are also all used contrary to their original definitions.
  3. Unless the mistake was on a resume, an academic paper, or a love note, you gotta let it go. Mistakes in Internet comments or remarks on social media should be the least of your worries.
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