Grammar police, your contribution to this world will be forgotten.

On my old blog, I first wrote a post in March 2014 about the online Grammar Police (or Grammar Nazi's, as some call them). It got an extreme lot of hits and discussion, most of which made me laugh. The comments were full of people agreeing and disagreeing with each other, some poking the hornet's nest by correct spelling, typos, and grammar.

I couldn't have asked for more perfectly fitting commentary.

A recent foray into combative comments reminded me of that old post, as the person responding to me first invoked Godwin's Law and brought up a Hitler/Nazi reference, and then went and corrected an error.


A bit later the fellow chimed in with another salvo of yada yada, ending with...the suggestion that I cannot comprehend what I read. With these folks, it's always the same. Their parry is sketchy, and their riposte is a jab at someone's verbal intelligence.



These folks are easy to identify by key phrases/ideas:

  • You missed the point
  • You don't know what you're talking about/referring to
  • Can you even read
  • Can you comprehend what you read
  • You made a typo
  • You used the wrong form of a word
  • I'm so witty that I actually meant something I didn't say and you didn't comprehend
  • I'm so witty that I wrote sort of obfuscated maybe not on purpose because I sort of vomited out my response emotionally rather than thinking first but you didn't get it so it was on purpose and ha you're a dummy
In the world of type assist on mobile devices, I've pretty much learned to ignore people's typos and try to get to the heart of what they are trying to say rather than look for superficial things to mock, but some folks still think there's gold in them thar superficial argumentative hills. Whatever.


That guy made my day, and also made me think it might be a good time to revisit that old post and rework it for publishing here.

I started the original post by recalling the book Julie, by Catherine Marshall. My mother had given that book to me as a girl because it was my name. It's a great book, but the bit that is relevant to this discussion involves an incident with a typo in a newspaper ad:

typo-julie.jpg
Julie, by Catherine Marshall; published by Avon Books, 1985.

It's my all-time favorite typo.

Even today, when I see the word "shirt" I think of these scene. What ends up happening in the story is that people rush to buy shirts because they think it's so funny to the point that the store owner wants a variation of the ad run in all kinds of ways (which the newspaper does not do).

In my original post, I described how that typo, which I read as a fifth grader, connected with how I create:

It was one of my first encounters with the happenstance of language accidents.

I found that I enjoyed the double meanings of homonyms, of accidental typos, questionable spellings, and how they created a kind of poetic trick on the reader who bothered to notice. Instead of fixating on the wrong word or off spelling, it became a game, deciphering what meaning was now construed with this incorrect word or surprise twist of letters. As with people, the faults revealed more of the nature of the word than a perfect facade.

This has carried over, in the same vein, to the “happy accidents” quality I rely upon in my art.
More art than I care to admit has come about by happy accidents, those moments when something spilled, dropped, or was mistakenly used. I often find when I let go of the fierce control I insist upon, my brain does things I could not have come up with. 

[...]

I naturally want to obey rules, whether in art or language, and I have for too long fallen victim to perfectionism and the need to police it in others to reassure myself of my own value and intellect. To my great delight, I find that my brain seems to be speeding up faster than my hands can translate, and that more errors and slips seem to seep into my creative endeavors that I try so hard to control. My perfectionism cracks a bit, I quit being so harsh on others, and some truly unique things come through the gate that is opened by the heralds of typos and grammar slip-ups. It as if the jarring mistake tosses a stone in the still surface of our mind and gets us to notice the bump and do a bit of thinking.


But there are no allowances for such things, it seems, because of the grammar police.

I still make use of happy accidents in my art and writing.

And Lo, They Were The Grammar Police


I originally described the grammar police as "a unique linguistic breed, who seem to want a world without errors, marching under the flag of professionalism and intelligence" but as I get just a bit older and more weary of them, I would tend to just call them a lot of other things:

  • Balaam's Donkey, a speaking ass
  • The critic outside of the arena, hollering at those trying to create (see Teddy Roosevelt's speech "The Man in the Arena").

 


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