The Universe is conspiring to keep me from blogging!. Now that I’ve managed to fix my computer woes,* I’m being bombarded with tests and assignments. I’ve managed to scrape together enough time to write a quick post in honor of National Grammar Day, though.
As much of a stickler as I am for writing that is syntactically well-formed, my experience as a teacher has sensitized me to something about the United States that many of its residents seem to forget: this country is made up of a diverse population. Not everyone shares the same level of education. Not everyone even shares the same first language! Instead of judging a person based on these differences, we should take this day to celebrate the language we have in common, errors and all. The linguist in me wants to remind English-speakers that the very grammar rules that people use to put down others’ writing were once considered errors themselves.
Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, eloquently explains why publicly shaming people who commit grammar errors stifles the learning process. Here’s a short excerpt from her blog post “A Plea for Sanity This National US Grammar day.”
Vigilante peeving does nothing to actually educate people. What it does instead is to shame them and make them feel bad about how they speak, write, and even think. Believe me, you cannot shame a person into good grammar.
Remember, this National Grammar Day, that there are people all around you with varying degrees of knowledge of and appreciation for the intricacies of English. Instead of calling people out on March 4th for all the usages they get wrong, how about pointing out all the thing things that people–against all odds–get right? Can you correctly pronounce “rough,” “though,” “through,” and “thought”? Congratulations, you have just navigated the Great Vowel Shift. If I ask you to come up with synonyms of “ask” and you respond with “question” and “inquire,” congratulations: you have seamlessly navigated your way through 500 years of English history. Do you end sentences in prepositions? That is awesome, because that is a linguistic and historical tie back to Old English, the dyslexic-looking Germanic language that started this whole shebang almost 1500 years ago.
Check out the rest of her blog post for insights into the English language only a lexicographer can give. It’s a long article, but well worth it. You will love her casual writing style and the relevant anecdotes she peppers throughout the essay. This one in particular made me smile:
[W]hen people take you to be an expert and you make a dumb mistake, you are called out as if you had perpetrated a war crime. I can’t tell you the times that I’ve answered an editorial email and made a dumb mistake– “it’s” for “its,” let’s say–and received a reply that is itself full of errors and misspellings but which essentially says, “OH MY GOD THEY LET YOU EDIT DICTIONARIES AND YOU DON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ITS AND IT’S? YOU’RE A MORON: LET ME SHO U IT.”
Make today a day of learning, not one of judgment. Educating yourself and others in a respectful manner about the wonderful quirks in the English language should be a joyful experience that ignites an interest in language and history. Too many people dislike writing out of a fear of being called out on their grammar errors. Behave in such a way that you do not add to that population.
*If you are planning on purchasing a computer with Windows 8 pre-installed on it and plan on uninstalling it, make sure the manufacturer has provided a firmware update for the BIOS on their website. Much to my dismay, when I purchased my laptop I was not aware that Microsoft:
- Enables a setting in the BIOS (now called UEFI) called “Secure Boot” which does not allow users to boot installation software from the system start-up process
- Requires manufacturers to disable the ability to turn off this setting.