Grammar Shaming: “Who’s” Fault Is It?

by • June 19, 2014

typo, errorists, Grammarly, Grammar Nazi, grammar shamingThere are very few things more annoying than a glaring grammar error in an otherwise acceptable piece of writing.

As lovers of language, you and I have a natural instinct to fix these errors. How do we deal, for example, with declarations that tweak our nose?

“I like her to.

Its a cold day.”

Seriously, people?!

Sometimes these grammar hiccups seem engineered to drive us up a wall, and they begin to take on a sinister quality. We encounter them over and over, and start to wonder if the writers are purposefully taunting us. Do they not understand that there are specific rules applied to how one writes? Have they never attended an English class? Do they not see that the very fabric of the Universe is at stake?

And from this rift, the troll inside of us emerges.

We find ourselves scouring Facebook posts, text messages, comment boards, and blogs. We find each typo, each error, and drag it out of the narrative like some slimy thing. We expose these abominations to the holy, cleansing light of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Then, for each infraction, we admonish the offender with an online version of a ruler crack across the knuckles.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it’s surprising how many of these enforcers stalk the Internet. Whenever they pop up to scold someone’s grammar in chat, or Facebook, they evoke a high school, “Mean Girls” atmosphere. The correction becomes a tacit, “I’m smarter than you.” The conversation quickly degenerates into a digital tarring and feathering that echoes a pseudo-erudite desire to anger or shame the “offender.” It rarely ends well, even in the best of circumstances, and the original point becomes lost in the absurd volley of angry posts.

Other grammarians take a different tack. They choose to say nothing, and sail blithely through the chaotic sea of mangled spelling and misused phrases. This alternative isn’t much better. If we love language, shouldn’t we try to preserve it? Is it not our duty to stamp out the weed-like errors we find before they spread? Is there no middle ground here?

My grandmother always said, “Show them what you want, don’t tell ‘em.” Envision the magic that can happen when one brave soul quietly sits down and types a beautiful sentence. If this is a battle you want to fight and win, I suggest the path of the quiet good example. Write well. Respond correctly. Use the correct capital letters in your posts, place commas appropriately in your texts, and think twice about the apostrophes in your blogs.

Remember that shame is a weapon, not a teaching tool. Using shame in the context of “helping” another writer creates a breakdown in communication. That’s the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

Most issues can be resolved with good proofreading. Online writers are often in a hurry and are unaware that they have broken a grammar rule. So show them how it’s done in your own writing. When you lead by example, you might be surprised how many people begin to replace a misplaced “to” with a “too.”

You’ve hurt no one in the process, and your karma’s clean.

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