Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some Day, Correcting the Wrong Person's Grammar Will Get Me Killed

I speak for my fellows: it's hard work being a grammarian.

We are constantly cringing, wincing and clutching our dictionaries to our chests. We battle dueling forces: the urge to blurt out a correction or the willpower to just keep quiet.

We talk Strunk and White; we quote from the scripture of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. We get emails from co-workers who should know the difference between there, their and they're; we can't take seriously a superior's remark that a situation is "unexceptable." (Wouldn't this necessarily mean that there is nothing to which she can take exception?) We vote for the candidate with the best grammar; we cannot, in good conscience, support someone who says "irregardless".

We are an ungrateful lot. We have a hard time accepting a thank you note that reads, "Your awesome!" By the same reasoning, we refuse to be offended by graffiti that reads, "Your a bitch." Not us, no; we are merely grammarians.

We stand tongue-tied when a colleague asks us to "pronunciate" a word; later, a student asks, "Does spelling count?" and we are baffled. Of course it counts. Can there possibly be a situation in the entire course of human history in which spelling has not counted?

We are often moody, wary, loathe to get involved. Who, anymore, wants a grammarian for a friend? We turn the same critical eye inward, flogging ourselves for typos in emails, offering extra credit for students who find our mistakes. We have a creed: Proofread twice, print once.

Stopped at a red light, we laugh at the message on a license plate holder with a grammatical error; isn't that akin to a misspelled tattoo? The driver, who possibly failed grade-school Language Arts, who likely has not read any good panda jokes, flips us an angry gesture. We stop chuckling, suitably warned.

Correcting the wrong person's grammar may well get us killed.


  1. I’ve heard it’s lonely at the top, but at least you have a nice view of our heads.

    Or should I have said: Ive herd its lone lee at the top but at least, you have a niece view of hour heads.?!"(wasnt sure how to end it.)

    Now I know who (or is it whom?) to ask for help. Most likely you will die from being overworked by people like me who constantly say, “What the heck was that rule again?”

  2. May you continue to keep your sense of humor as you risk your life for so noble a cause. This is a particularly painful topic for me as a graphic designer. My job, technically, is to take other people's words and make them look pretty, but I frequently face the dilemma of whether to step in and correct bad grammar on the sly or to alert my client to a flagrant misuse of quotation marks or an inexplicable refusal to employ the word "me" after a preposition. I'm not being paid to edit, after all. Somebody else has that job; he's just not doing it. (I recently finished the layout for a local magazine, so these memories are still a bit raw.) Being married to a literature professor who keeps grammar books as bedside and bathroom reading material has only served to pour salt on these grammatical sores. When even the professional journalists make me want to insert "[sic]" on every page, I feel like the situation is ultimately hopeless. 

    So laugh, I say, at license plate frames all you want, and wield your dictionary with pride. You are fighting a good fight, and society will someday thank you. :)

  3. Aww, Steve! Très modeste! You're certainly no slouch when it comes to grammar.

    Hannah, we are sisters in this fight! You're the graphic designer -- maybe you can design the banner we carry into battle?