Friday, 1 June 2007

Grammar

I am on a crusade against grammar Nazis.

Being good at grammar is like have a birthmark on your stomach. No-one cares except you, and no-one knows unless you show it off. The difference between good grammar and a birthmark, though, is that unless showing the birthmark involves doing something anti-social, the person you are showing will not think that you are a git. If, however, you passionately believe in grammar, I suggest following these steps to ensure that you are only regarded as a quasi-git.

1. Ask yourself - why am I correcting the other person?

Is it because you love language and love to educate? Or is it because, deep down, you are a little bit insecure and want to feel superior to and more intelligent than someone else? Are you looking to teach, or dis empower?

Good grammar isn't a sign of intelligence, it's just a sign of someone who has learnt the rules. Thinking otherwise is like remembering the details of all the Presidents of the USA and fancying yourself an expert in US history.

2. Make sure that your 'correction' is correct

I recently completed a course on English grammar as part of my teaching English as a second language course. This course taught me three things. First - most grammar comes down to personal preference. Second - I would rather eat a porcupine than put that much energy into the English language ever again. Lastly - there are many Grammar Nazis out there (let's call them "Grazis") who aren’t the grammar gurus that they think they are. Just because someone will leap into a conversation to correct you does not make them right.
I can think of three recent examples of grammar being 'corrected' by different ill-informed Grazis:

The first was an eye roll at the "grammatically incorrect" title Bridget Jones's Diary. If this Grazi had put as much energy into reading up about the apostrophe rule as they did moaning about the common misuse of it, they would know that the title is not a grammatical faux-pas as either Jones' or Jones's is fine.

The second was after I had referred to a photo of Tane and me. I was quickly told that it was Tane and I. I wouldn't say "look at this photo of I" so why would I say "look at this photo of Tane and I"? The reflexive "me" is the grammatically correct way of saying this. Just because "Tane and I" sounds poncy doesn't make it right.

Third, a Grazi pointed out an error by asking "what's the first person possessive pronoun again?", referring to the word 'my'. This was wrong as 'my' is a possessive adjective because it always needs to be describing a noun. Grazis take note: it is especially important to get 'corrections' right if you are willing to use the poncy grammatical way of describing words in pointing out the 'error'.

If you are a Grazi and are starting to question yourself, don't worry. Apparently a number of errors can be found in the book Eat Shoots and Leaves, a Grazi bible. The author of that book is obviously an uber-Grazi and she can't even get it right. Read about some very funny criticisms of the book here.

3. Remember - there is a difference between essential and non-essential grammar
.
Basically, if the error can change the meaning of the sentence, it is important. If it doesn't, it's not. Language is always in a state of evolution, and there is a huge difference between the prescription and description of English. Also, pronouciation is different than grammar. Whether it's a to-may-to or a to-ma-ta does not change the fact that it is small, red, and delicious with tuna in sandwiches.

The more I learn about grammar, the more I realise how subjective and generally unimportant it is. Except for when I am at work, or writing something academic, I prefer to keep that birthmark well covered. Among other things, there are plenty more interesting things to talk about.

Unless, of course, I am on my personal crusade against Grazis.

7 comments:

The_doctor said...

Interesting points Laureen as languages are ever evolving and fluid, but I am a Grazi and my motivations are based on the love of following rules and that feeling of superiority (well I am honest with myself over that)

Elizabeth said...

Aw... :-(

Bonnie said...

hehehe. Is Grazi like what the main guy taught the German kids to say in Life Is Beautiful?

Orange Dwarf said...

There should be a comma after "faux-pax" in Line 34.

Anonymous said...

When you actually teach foreigners English, you have to think long and hard when an advanced student asks you an impossibly hard grammar question that, as a native speaker, you'd never, ever ask yourself! Damn French!
- Julie

Tane Aikman said...

Having had to endure some of the English course Lauren's done (I'm procrastinating my way through it, partly because I find language rules pretty dull)I've come to a realisation about English grammar.

A lot of it is like warts - ugly, pointless and annoying.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's useful to have a competent knowledge of grammar if you're doing a lot of writing. Otherwise, when a sentence sounds funny, you're kinda like a carpenter who doesn't know why the house is leaking.

But things like the 'who/whom' rule, or split infinitives, are just bloody silly.

Learning these rules is rather pointless. They don't aid communication. They don't help writing. They're just English's useless appendages.

Sarah said...

I really enjoyed reading this R&R (rant and rave), Lauren! :) Now, to make this all about MOI, I would say that I am more of a spelling Nazi than a grammar Nazi, so I guess that makes me a spazi...