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Monday, March 4, 2013

Happy National Grammar Day!


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:

  1. 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
  2. Requires manufacturers to disable the ability to turn off this setting.
The only work-around that I was able to come up with was to install a firmware update to the BIOS. Unfortunately Lenovo (the manufacturer of the laptop I purchased) inexplicably pulled the file from their website and made the download unavailable to customers. I was lucky enough to figure all of this out within the time-span allowed for returns and was able to return the laptop for a full refund.  I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone else so please test drive Windows 8 at a store prior to purchasing a computer with it installed on it to make sure it’s an operating system you can live with.


There's many seldom used words I wish would become fashionable, or at least used regularly so that when you do use them, people don't automatically accuse you of making up a word.   We also need to make correct grammar popular again, even if it means forcing people to correct their bad habits.  But why stop there? We should also try to put back into circulation unique and descriptive words no longer being used due to the dumbing down of America.

Hi Robert! A day actually already exists that celebrates learning new words (basically, reviving old ones); it's called Natnioal Dictionary Day and it occurs on October 16th, Noah Webster's birthday. 

I'm a grammar nazi myself, so I understand your frustration with the lack of proper grammar these days. I do believe that much of the poorly formed writing we see today is due to laziness and an upbringing that does not value education. My experience as a public school teacher really opened my eyes to how little knowledge and academics are valued by a huge portion of our population.  My parents came from very poor families and they didn't have access to private tutors or private schools - they studied hard and believed doing well in school was important because their parents reared them to value education. While private schools provide more pressure on students to succeed, ultimately the motivation to learn has to come from within.

Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, there are just as many people (young and old) in this country for whom English is not their first language and their writing errors are not a product of laziness. I treasured my time as a community college instructor because so many of my students were immigrants or children of immigrants who really wanted to improve their writing skills and tried SO hard to get better. 

No bigdeal. Irregardless, their obviously letting it effect them to
much, supposably. Its easy for you're word's to be come something you
carry worry with. Literally. Don't loose site. Of whats important,
than you could of be anxious. The subject is mute, since were all in
this to gather. Its so impactful that it make's whomever nauseous when
their complaining since their using bad word's. Whatever. I could care

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