Turning In My Grammar Police Badge
Please lower your red pens. I am proposing a ceasefire.
We all receive the text messages devoid of vowels. We all read the status updates devoid of punctuation, the prepositional tweets, and the Instagram captions that make you wonder if the person was driving while posting their quip. But, even worse than all these things, we all have the one friend that feels the need to point out all of these grammatical hiccups to the world. The person that is always posting single words with an asterisk at the end (weDnesday*). The person that you never wanted to be paired with for peer-editing day in high school English. The grammar police.
Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that there was a time when I numbered myself amongst the finest of grammar cops. I comma spliced for my coworker’s when they were’t looking, I fixed misspellings on flyers, I said to people “funner isn’t a word,” and it was all really quite asinine. Did my corrected punctuation really help people to understand the memo, or was it perfectly understandable from the start? It was a question that I had been asking myself for a few days, when a conversation with a fellow barfly settled the` debate in an irrevocable fashion.
“Now, what’s a word exactly?” he asked.
It was a good question, and one that I may have had a better answer for if I had not been inebriated. I fumbled (and quite loudly) through something that sounded like, “What’s a word!? A word is a word, man! They’re what’s coming out of my mouth right now!” How elegant.
Luckily, my companion was much more composed than I.
“No, a word is anything that I can communicate that you might be capable of understanding.”
It didn’t shut me up in the moment, but it shut me up the next morning.
Let’s use the word “funner” for example, because it’s so commonly used and because I’ve brought it up already. When a friend remarks that “Going bowling is much funner if you get high first,” do you really find it difficult to comprehend just because he should have said “more fun”? And, to take the argument even a step further, would he even remember the content of the correction an hour later? It’s probably closer to the truth to say that he’ll remember only that an asshole corrected his grammar, and ruined his high. So, why not just leave it be? People don’t enjoy the Grammar Nazi anywhere near as much as the enjoy the Soup Nazi.
So, in the interest of preserving friendships and lowering overage charges on my cellphone data plan, I turned in my badge. It’s not that I found the fight against poor grammar to be a losing battle, but rather that I realized it was an unnecessary battle to be fighting in the first place. A sort of cultural Vietnam War.
Retirement has treated me well so far, but I understand the trepidation of English majors that are appalled by the argument I have just made. Most of that fear probably arises from an unspoken knowledge that what I am talking about has already become inevitable. But, if it helps you to sleep at night, try thinking of it as modernism. James Joyce only used one period in the last sixty pages of his greatest novel, and now they teach college courses about it. So while your friend that sends texts that look like this: “B rght thr,” might not be on the same exact wavelength as Mr. Joyce, his heart and style are in the right place. So, maybe not modernism, but rather modernism*.
End Note: To prove a point, I didn’t edit this.
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