Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Forgive them, Mom, they know not what they say

Letters: Salon:
On the language thing...I've been an editor for years, and my pet peeve is people correcting each other's spoken grammar. Or being 'outraged' by common misuse. I used to be something of a nitpicker when it came to grammar and usage, and my ears still grate when I hear an 'over' that should be 'more than', but language evolves. The purpose of language is clear communication, not a test of someone's knowledge of the rules. So let if it's not confusing you, let it go.

(And a big sarcastic thanks to all of you who write to publications to inform them of 'the rules' when they make a mistake or let slip a typo. It's very helpful for professional editors to be reminded of the difference between 'it's' and 'its.' Just a humble request from a longtime copy editor: Please keep the smug 'gotchas' to yourself. Bask in your superiority without sharing it with us. We put a lot of words out there, and we usually get it right. We know when we made a mistake.)

Ohmyohmyohmy. My mother would plotz. Bless her, well into her 80s, she continues to correct the grammar, written and spoken, of all around her, including me. (And I don't make many such errors.) i am also compulsive about correcting errors in papers submitted by my students (a great many of whom DO NOT know the difference in usage between "its" and "it's.") (That's ',s,.,",), precisely.)

What is the role of teachers, at varying levels, to correct the written and, yes, spoken, language of their students, and to convey a sense of proper, formal usage for educated professionals?

If I still have any readers for this posting, I await your "gotchas" (or is that "gotcha"s, or "gotcha's"?). Gotcha away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I understand there are some MINOR mistakes in grammar which can easily be forgiven (I think your example of the "over" as opposed to the "more than" example is one of them, as is the constant unnecessary use of the word "that", as in 'the bird THAT I brought home').

Still, there are certain mistakes in spoken grammar, which, IMNSHO, don't simply grate, they give me the impression the person using such improper language is either incredibly ignorant or just plain stupid. When it comes to those about whom I care a great deal, when I correct them I do so out of love. I do so because I do not wish them to sound ignorant or stupid, and I certainly don't want anyone to feel about them the way *I* feel about people who can't seem to even use SIMPLE grammar correctly.

My personal pet peeve(s)? It's the infernal use of the word "at" when used after a perfectly good end of a sentence. You know the one I'm talking about.

Where is it? AT!
I don't know where we are. AT!
I feel they know where it's going to be. AT!

This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the evolution of language. It has far more, IMNSHO, to do with the anti-intellectualism sub-culture which has sadly started to pervade our culture.

I ALSO don't care for people who don't know the difference between the word "presently" and the expression "at present." Now this last one might be put down to "evolution" (though I'd call it devolution) of language, but there is no possible "good reason" to allow people to screw up such a wonderful language without at least putting up a fight.

If we don't put up a fight and at least let others know just how much it bugs us when we see people using "u r" in a sentence when they mean "you are", or worse, they begin to fail to teach our children there's a difference between the words "are" and "our," never mind trying to explain to them the words are supposed to be pronounced differently.

The last one I'll touch on is, again, NOT one I feel has anything to do with the evolution of language. This would be the difference between the words "affect" and "effect."

Of course you have the right not to care the more and more people bastardize the Queen's English, but for me, I will continue to fight against people actually accepting gross errors.

Just for what it's worth, however, I rarely correct someone if they truly murder a sentence (perhaps saying something like "I ain't never gonna be doin' nothing what you be sayin' "). Instead I'll just look at them with an expression of "uh, just what does THAT mean?" and then I'll goof on them giving them severally equally bad interpretations of what they said.

It amazes me, however, as an editor, you would be so quick to allow others to destroy the language. I really enjoy the English language and have been playing a back and forth game of "do you know what ____ means?" with my Mom over the last 35 years. I find it sad, in you, we've lost one more warrior in the fight to try to help people learn to speak properly.

Enough said.