A Grammar Nerd’s Defense

I’m raising Grammar Nerds.  I refuse to call them Grammar Nazis and I truly do wish we could retire that term.

I recently commented on Facebook about the poor grammar in a letter sent out by our school.  I said something about expecting better from the school I send my children to.  What I forgot to consider was that I live in a small town.  And so I probably know the person who wrote the letter.

Well, I do.  And she’s one of the sweetest, nicest people you could ever meet.  And she was embarrassed and hurt by my remark.  I felt terrible.  On the one hand, I don’t think I was (strictly speaking) wrong to expect more from my school.  On the other hand, I had caused harm by bringing it up in a public manner.  Normally, I would do it privately, and only if I felt the person would want to fix it.

At any rate, I was telling some friends about how terrible I felt.  One of them very sternly told me, “That was bad.  Really bad.  People don’t like it when people do that.  That’s where the term Grammar Nazi comes from.  Because it’s bad.  People don’t like it.”

Let’s just rein it back in for a minute, shall we?  I publicly remarked that a letter that did contain grammar mistakes… contained grammar mistakes.  This wasn’t a random post on Facebook.  It wasn’t an email or text message or some other throwaway communication.  It was official correspondence from my child’s school.  And it was not well edited before it was released.

Was my complaint really comparable to the starvation, torture, rape, and execution of tens of thousands of people?  I mean, really?  Let’s try to keep it in perspective, please.

Needless to say, when I saw a sign on the door at the school saying “Our student’s safety is our top priority”, I kept my mouth shut.  Well, not completely.  I told Jane about the sign, without telling her the mistake, and asked her how it should be spelled.  She said, “S-T-U-D-E-N-T-S apostrophe.  What, did they put the apostrophe before the S?”

She smiled as I commented that I didn’t realize the school was only worried about one student and wondered which one it was.

It was less than a week later when the boys brought home a T-shirt order form from their school.  The logo said “To Our School We Proudly Hale”.  Jane was the first to point out that they meant Hail.

We contacted some folks who were very appreciative that we brought it to their attention before the shirts went to print.  It’s nice, as a grammar nerd, to be granted appreciation instead of scorn.  It’s much nicer than being scowled at.  Then again, I suppose how we approach the correction makes all the difference.

But you see, it’s not easy to turn it off.  We notice.  And we actually don’t find grammar all that hard.  We get that it’s easy to type something wrong.  But if it’s something that you’ve read over, there probably shouldn’t be many mistakes.  At least, not the really big ones.  We try to consider people’s feelings, but sometimes the timing is just too perfect or the temptation too great or the frustration too much to bear in silence.

Take a conversation Jane was having with some friends.  She remarked that she was not going to be an orchestra teacher when she grew up and then pointed to one of the girls and indicated that she probably would.

The girl responded, “I’m not going to be no orchestra teacher.”

Jane immediately fired back with, “You aren’t going to be an English teacher either!”

Ok, so out of line?  Yeah.  Probably.  Funny?  Hell, yeah!  I couldn’t believe she had said it, but at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling a little proud of her either.

One final proud Grammar Mom moment?  I’ve had multiple adults tell me that they ask Daryl for any spelling help they need.  One of them had barely met him two years ago when he was in the third grade.  One of the other students had made a sign that said “Flower Shop”.  Only, she had spelled it “Flower Shope”.  All the other kids told the girl that the E shouldn’t be there.  Daryl walked by, glanced at the sign, and said, “If you want to spell it with an E, you need two P’s.”

We can’t help it, my children and I.  We live in words.  We immerse ourselves in books.  We love to write.  We love the language.  And it actually hurts to see it butchered, even accidentally.  So we try to be compassionate and consider people’s feelings, we really do.  But sometimes, our instincts get the best of us and we just have to let it out.  At least I haven’t taken to carrying around a bottle of white-out and a Sharpie to fix all the misplaced commas and apostrophes that I come across!


9 thoughts on “A Grammar Nerd’s Defense

    • I don’t get it right all the time – especially when speaking (vs. writing). But in my mind, there are certain “big ones” that no educated person should ever get wrong: apostrophes, to/too/two, your/you’re, its/it’s, noun/verb agreement. Stuff like that. Maybe you autocomplete or get it wrong while hurrying, but if you’ve edited, you should catch ’em.

  1. I LOVE that you are all grammar nerds. You state your case perfectly. English grammar skills have deteriorated so much and so rapidly that where it used to be only occasionally that I would notice one in an advertisement (usually local companies with no budget for a copy editor), now I am routinely seeing them on billboards, the “crawl” on news stations, and throughout newspapers (my journalist friends tell me that very few news outlets actually hire people specifically for the position of Copy Editor these days). Worse, I think much of the error-making has been compounded by predictive text in smartphones. I used to have a Blackberry. It corrected my mistyped (so done due to large thumbs on a small touchscreen) words beautifully, albeit with the occasional Canadian English spelling tossed in for fun. Canadian company, so understandable and logical programming choice. Next, I had a Motorola-branded Android-based behemoth phone that butchered the concept of a custom dictionary and routinely “corrected” my real vocabulary with irrelevant and similar-in-spelling-but-not-definition choices which I then would have to back up and correct with a manual override. Now I have spent the last few months trying to force my newish iPhone to understand the concept of the apostrophe. It doesn’t get that there are multiple meanings behind the same string of letters which are indicated via little signals such as capitlaization of the initial letter or the addition/subtraction of an apostrophe or the terminal letter “s.” It Seriously, this thing cannot understand the difference between “carries,” (the active verb) “Carrie’s,” (the possession belonging to a person named CARRIE) and “Carries.” (A reference to multiple people coincidentally named CARRIE) Nor does it understand the medical term “caries” (akin to dental cavities). And, just for fun, it inexplicably put the name CARRIE in all caps. Three times.

    That must have at least something to do with this trend of lousy spelling ms grammar…a self-perpetuating situation which is causing even grammar nerds and English majors to second-guess their own writing.

    I swear I see so many errors these days I’m not always 100% certain which is correct anymore without pausing to think it through. I’ve got better things to do with my time than that! I hate that such a proliferation of poor spelling and grammar has me inadvertently absorbing errors and suddenly being confused by things which I used to know almost intuitively. And, yes, I am aware that my grammar in this rant is far from perfect. But, like you, if I were charged with issuing a formal statement to the public, I’d give a bit of time to ensuring it was composed clearly and correctly.

    P.S. Thank you for raising the objection to the use of “Nazi” as a descriptor. Few things can ever be appropriately compared to the horror of the Nazi regime, and I think we should certainly always take exception when that word is used so casually and trivially when what the speaker really means is that the person is a “stickler,” or that they are “precise in their standards.” To call someone a Grammar Nazi or a FemiNazi or the like is to trivialize the pervasive brutality exacted upon tens of millions of people by a force of almost inescapable evil. And people who don’t see any harm in that need to rethink their position with a good long read of Elie Weisel or Corrie Ten Boom or Anne Frank.

    • Yeah, my phone’s lack of understanding of apostrophes irritates me too. I’m tired of it adding a space between my apostrophe and my s on plurals. And its random capitalization of some words.

      I think you are right that poor grammar perpetuates itself. People see stuff wrong and it reenforces the notion in their heads that it’s right. It was that way on a billboard, after all!

      I didn’t start thinking about the problem with using the term Nazi in this manner until recently. It does tone down the brutality of the history. It turns it into a joke or even a compliment (from some perspectives). It’s really unfortunate.

    • To be fair, I don’t know that I’d call my remark about the letter from the school a “good deed”. I was complaining (venting), pure and simple. A good deed would have been to contact the school privately and point out their mistake.

    • A grammar nerd cannot complain if people point out mistakes in their own writing – how hypocritical would that be?! So there is no need to apologize.

      Thank you for catching the bare mistake. My eyes flew open when I went looking for it! We all have our particular mistakes that we are prone to make, no matter how exact we try to be, but that is actually not one of mine. And I obviously didn’t mean that I struggled to undress quietly. 🙂

      Your other correction is actually mistaken though (and I researched before responding, just to make sure). People, like women and men, is already plural so it is made possessive by adding an ‘s, not s’.

      woman, woman’s, women, women’s
      person, person’s, people, people’s

      There are certain cases where people have used the word ‘peoples’ to refer to a large group of people, and in that case, you might be able to argue for peoples’, but even with that consideration, that is not how I was using the word. From what I read, the topic appears to be at least mildly controversial but the most basic, accepted treatment is as I’ve shown it above.

      Thank you very much for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

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