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A Reformed Grammar Zealot

by Nils Ling
Book : Truths And Half Truths

“I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.” – Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday I wrote a post wherein I took advantage of a quirky news story to point out once again the value of learning and using good grammar.  I tend to be harsh and unforgiving of bad grammar in myself and, truth be told, less than completely patient with bad grammar in other people’s writing.

I’ve always been comfortable with this – and in fact, you could, if you squinted, almost detect an air of … superiority?  Smugness?  Arrogance?  All of the above?

But that’s the thing about good friends.  They never let you wander too far down that path.  And one of my best friends in the world, Laura, took me to task.

She pointed out that it’s easy to be unforgiving about grammar if we assume that everybody starts at the same point – that we all have access to the same quality of education; that we all learn in exactly the same way; that we all have the same level of dedication in our teachers or parents; that we all have access to the same books; and that we all face the same physical, psychological, and emotional challenges … in short (if the ship has not already sailed on that), that we are on a level playing field.

And of course, we’re not.

I come from a Canadian public school education, as do my kids.  It’s a high standard of education, relatively speaking.  I was never in a classroom with more than 25 other kids till I reached University.  While not all my teachers were top drawer, a lot were – and I include several English teachers among those who inspired me to do what I do.  Their dedication and their encouragement made a huge difference to my life.

Unlike my brother, who fought dyslexia, I never had a serious learning disability.  I wore glasses, but that just meant I didn’t get laid – it didn’t interfere with my education (probably the opposite).  I had perfect hearing.  I could walk, and speak properly, and other than being a bit homely, I wasn’t disfigured and scarred emotionally by classmates’ taunts.  I had it easy.

So yes, I was taught grammar, and taught it well, and was inspired to care about it.  The affected, illiterate, text-message/faux Ebonics/cool dude style of writing you find so often today is as fingernails on my psychic blackboard. ( I’ll tell you what, Prince/Artist Formerly Known As /Prince:  I hold U personally responsible for UR share of this.)

But Laura – who hails from Florida –  writes:

I volunteered for years with the schools here, where I’d take individual kids out of the classroom and work with them on their reading.. and I still see some of those kids on a daily basis.  There were always kids who succeeded and some who just plain didn’t care at all.  But then there were the kids who, no matter how much help they got, they just couldnt “get” it.  I had one boy throw his chair at me, he was so frusturated.  These people grow up to be adults.

And that’s an excellent point.  When we – some of us – get to feeling all superior about grammar, it’s important for us all (and I am among the worst) to remember that flawless grammar is often a telltale sign of advantages that some people just didn’t have.

Not everybody who was disadvantaged has bad grammar – many can and do overcome their challenges.  And not everybody who has it easy goes on in life to spill out flawlessly grammatical prose.  There are lots of factors.  Some are in our control; others aren’t.  I forget that, and can sometimes say hurtful things about people who really don’t deserve it.

So while I’ll try to maintain my own standards when it comes to grammar, I’m going to try being a little less judgmental of others.  Be tough on myself and forgiving of other people.

God, I hate it when I have to be a better person.  Damn you, Laura.  (g)

Last “Bad” Words, another great post by Nils Ling.

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A. Savage Ross

Tuesday 26th of June 2012

I'm sorry, but I disagree. There has to be an agreed standard in order to construct meaning, especially in writing, between two parties who may not be face to face. Yes, languages evolve over time, but that takes time and consensus that something has in fact changed. The context of a text message is completely different from say, a journalistic piece and deserves different and appropriately precise standards for each.


Saturday 23rd of June 2012

"we have to make allowances: no one is perfect, first of all, ourselves."


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