Tricky Language

I have an addiction to online advice columns. I like reading situational advice (“I slept with my boyfriend’s dad; what now?”), but the columns I frequent mainly deal with questions of etiquette. Both Miss Manners and Miss Conduct have recently been hit with questions regarding correcting someone’s grammar or word choice in public. On Miss Conduct’s blog, this has turned into a forum for her readers to champion for the English language by declaring their biggest peeves.

As a former editor, I can’t help reading what people have to say, but I get really irritated. The point of language is that it provides humans a means through which to communicate with other humans. Precision of language aids in the transmittal of ideas. The benefit of perfect grammar is the smoothest possible transmission, but even with a couple of hiccups, you can still get your point across. Language should not be used as a means of judgement and social hierarchy.

I could use myself as an example here. When writing, I have no trouble at all articulating my thoughts clearly and accurately, but if you listen to me talk, it’s all, “Bleh, duh duh, what’s the word? Bleh, bleh….” And who cares?

I love it when people defer to me to settle a grammar argument. Usually this happens when my mother corrects my sister, both of them are wrong, and they ask me to settle the argument. My initial response is, “If you know what she meant, who cares?” But I’ll tell them the answer because they want to know.

At the risk of contradicting myself (my right as a human), I’m not a fan of the bastardization of the English language, and I have my own peeves. But to minimize the self-contradiction, I’ll keep those to myself. Because the point is putting these aside to listen to what someone is saying, not how they’re saying it. Though it’s hard to let go of these nit-picky little things, I would like to see our language as a living, evolving thing. As much as it aggravates me that though technically (I guess I should say historically…) the whole comprises its parts or is composed of its parts, it is now acceptable to say the whole is comprised of its parts,* I find it ten times more annoying that spellcheck still underlines online and blog. (I won’t even get into how Microsoft Word’s grammar checker is responsible for an entire generation not knowing what in god’s name to do with a comma.)

So, there you have it. The most important reason that it is improper to correct the grammar of others is that you should be focusing on what they have to say rather than how they say it. Conversely, should the stars align in such a way that a person conveys her thoughts to you with nary a split infinitive or sentence-ending preposition, keep the candle-burning ceremony to yourself.

*OK, there. You got one of my peeves. I’m not perfect.


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