Monday, January 7, 2008

Freedom for Spellers

Ok, enough of this stroller mafia, whether it actually exists or only seems to. Now I train my vitriol on what can be called the Grammar Gestapo. Which of course is also formally non-existent.

It seems that there are people out there who lay in wait for others to make a grammatical error so they can lord their superiority over that person. Especially in the blogosphere. For instance, god forbid you spell "a lot" as one word. Never mind that when many people speak they don't say "a lot," unless they have a big stick up the #$%#." They say "alot." It appears that when spelled the lack of that little space between the "a" and the "l" could constitute grounds for some super-judgemental people allied with this hemorrhoidal hegemony to dismiss you completely.

Some very wise people feel so insecure about their inability to master the science of spelling and the precision of grammar that we may never hear their voices. (I am not one of them.) I hope they know that just because someone makes a spelling mistake doesn't mean that person can be dismissed. And if you never make any of them, you might have to wonder if you could very well be an elitist, judgemental, rigid, classist or simply boring person. Or, maybe you're just talented, that's a possibility too.

Whenever that radio show about grammar comes on NPR my skin crawls. I hear such smug self-satisfaction I feel sick. "Oh yes, and then there are those people who use the word "irregardless.. " How they vex those poor well-educated perhaps ivy league petty dipshits! Oh how they are tormented by misplaced hyphens and apostrophes which like arrows pierce their well-cultivated sense of righteousness.

The smugness! The elitism! Fi!! I guess you have to base your self worth on something, like feeling superior? What's the matter with those people? Don't they want has cheezburger?


Phill said...

Ditto and bravo, A!

Lisanne said...

Thank you!

I am guilty of spelling "a lot" "alot" ALOT!!!!

Like many things in life, even though I know it's wrong, I still do it!

Richard said...

As someone who's taught freshman comp and other writing courses, starting at LIU downtown 33 years ago and then at about 20 other colleges, I guess I am part of the problem you are talking about. I do understand your frustration.

But I'm 57, and when I went to school (at P.S. 244 & P.S. 203, Meyer Levin J.H.S. 285, Midwood H.S. and Brooklyn College), things were a lot stricter. Students would get failing grades for papers with three grammatical, syntactical or spelling errors.

I must admit that I am one of those morons who is bothered by "alot." However, I do not correct people unless I am being paid for it. I wish I could just stop caring about apostrophes used in plural nouns, but so far there is no twelve-step program for people like me, and so we will probably continue to annoy younger people like you.

But I will be dead soon, as will others of my generation, so hope is on the way for you!

Anonymous said...

The attitude you display is just as smug and "elitist" (in a narrow definition of the term) as that of the obsessive correctors. While typo's and the occasional spelling mistake maybe overlooked in email and other informal communication, errors elsewhere (even in blogs, and I am a blogger myself) just look bad and have no excuse.

As for pet peeves, the ubiquitous use of "it's" for "its" grates on the ear.

I certainly hope to teach my son, who aspires to be a writer, to spell check and correct his grammar.

amarilla said...

Richard, I don't want you to be dead. You sound like a really nice person, not the type who is waiting to humiliate people who are never able to nail down the correct usage of its and it's. You don't sound smug about any of it. It's all in the spirit of how a correction is made. The other day someone corrected a blogger I know in a way that was mysteriously kind. No trace of aggression and condescension about it.

Anonymous, should blogging be limited to people who have consummate grammar skills so people like you don't get irritated? Would that be useful to society? What percentage of the population qualifies? Who would be left out? This is really about having an open heart. Some people have important things to say but can't master grammar and spelling for the life of them.

Immediacy is another issue. Does every message have to percolate through god knows how many filters of processing before it's safe for popular consumption? Isn't raw and truthful and human also important?

January 8, 2008 7:07 AM

Anonymous said...

"As for pet peeves, the ubiquitous use of "it's" for "its" grates on the ear."

that's hilarious.

People who complain grammar errors often don't have a good understanding of grammar in the first place. Look at a good usage book, like Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, and you'll find that most of these "mistakes" actually have a long distinguished history and are completely acceptable.

Anonymous said...

It's "lie in wait," not "lay in wait."

Lo said...

I am a lot like Richard, and I hope not to be dead soon (I'm 33, so unless I am J.C., I will last for awhile).

However, as a teacher of 7th graders, it's extremely important to me that people not feel silenced if their grammar/syntax/spelling is not perfect.

I also accept & assume that my ability to notice and be bothered by "alot" and "it's/its" has something to do with my visual processing and does not necessarily make me super-intelligent or even, necessarily, a good writer.

I do not generally correct spelling or grammar anywhere but on my students' work (and even then, judiciously, so as to keep their voices alive) but I take glee in pointing out that the first anonymous commenter here made an error: s/he wrote "typo's", which is the possessive, where it should be "typos", the plural.

So there.

Richard said...

That is certainly true. Apostrophes are a fairly recent development in the English language; however, as I said, it's (!) hard for me to not get annoyed when I see "its/it's" misused.

Perhaps it will cheer you to know that I have just stopped correcting this error because it is so prevalent. I have to fight my ingrained tendency (reinforced by three years of law school and another seven years of working as a law school faculty member and administrator) to hyper-correct.

Students often misspell my name, their own names, the names of the authors they are writing about (at Borough of Manhattan Community College last semester our English 101 final was on readings by Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, and most students spelled at least one of the three names incorrectly -- clearly understandable given the sound of "Fredrick," "Douglas," and "Malcom" but it's a carelessness that still manages to annoy me).

Many of the rules of grammar I learned are arbitrary. Bishop Louth was, in many ways, moronic in his prescriptions. There is no logical reason to avoid double negatives, as other languages do it without "two negatives making a positive" (an inapt analogy derived, obviously, from mathematics).

A generation ago I used to correct things that have stopped even bothering me. I used to worry about the who/whom distinction because it was stressed on us as early as fourth and fifth grades; now I correct only a mistaken use of "whom" as a subject pronoun. I used to correct students who wrote, "Everyone needs to watch their language." Now I assume it's correct (though of course their is usually spelled there or they're).

These are trivial issues, actually, in teaching composition today. Conveying meaning, organizing and developing ideas, and avoiding egregious syntax errors or choppy, simplistic prose are far more important than "error correction."

I sometimes have to explain to students that a paper without grammatical errors is not necessarily an "A" paper.

I blame that on the same kind of "gotcha" grammar mentality that was decried in this post.

But there are many ways people try to show their superiority over others. Mean people suck.

Old First said...

But anonymous is wrong. It can't grate on the ear. They sound exactly the same. Maybe they grate on the eye.

amarilla said...

OK, not "lay in wait." Thank you. I'm just lucky I didn't write lye in weight, none of which would have been caught by spell check. Believe me, I do things like that far too often. The other day I spelled "unchic" "unsheik."

Anonymous said...

You have a point, but I'm horrified by your use of "hemmorhoidal" as a pejorative. Those of us who suffer from this surprisingly common if still unspoken affliction--which no doubt affects bloggers at higher rates than civilians--know that it has more to do with roughage than with usage.

amarilla said...

Guilty as charged, Buttinsky. Please accept my apology.

amarilla said...

May I add that as a blogger I may or may not have a hemorrhoid but I deeply feel the word is a pain in the butt to spell.