Grammar Police

We all have that friend. You know the one: she corrects you every time you say “good” instead of “well,” adds an “–itimate” to your every “legit,” and flies into a complete rage at every incorrectly punctuated Facebook status she sees. And it’s kind of annoying. You don’t really get it. Why does she nitpick so much? Who cares if you say “less” instead of “fewer”? What’s her problem?

I will freely admit that I am that friend. And my problem, simply put, is this: I am a grammar freak.

The name, unfortunately, implies that there is something fundamentally wrong with grammar freaks, that we are lab-generated mutants with an eye for misplaced modifiers instead of superpowers, but I prefer to think of it as less of a mutation and more like a very mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder. In some ways the two are very similar: neither is particularly harmful to the person with the condition or the people around her, but both are often misunderstood.

I don’t know much about OCD, but I would like to clear up a few of the misconceptions about grammar freaks. And although I obviously can’t speak for all of us, I do know quite a few (we tend to flock together to rant about the importance of the Oxford comma) and I’d like to explain a few things that may just help you to get along with me and the rest of the grammar-obsessed.

My first point is a pretty important one: it’s not personal. Just because I correct your does not mean I think you’re stupid or illiterate or don’t like you anymore and won’t be inviting you to my birthday party. I don’t change your “I”s to “me”s because I think you’re an idiot. On the contrary, the fact that I correct you means exactly the opposite. I correct you because you’re worth it, because I hold you to a higher standard than the  inarticulate masses. When some dumb passerby uses “impact” or “reference” as a verb, I may just roll my eyes and mutter something rude under my breath, but you? You are my friend, and therefore worth correcting.

Most of the time, it’s not even intentional. I hardly realize what I’m doing until you roll your eyes and get huffy and offended. At this point, it’s just become automatic, as mindless and necessary as correctly spelling every single word in an email. In fact, not correcting an error is unthinkable to me. Because if I didn’t correct it, it would bother me.

It’s difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t feel all the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end whenever she hears incorrect subject-verb agreement, but I’ll put it like this. There are people who can’t stand crooked pictures. Other people can’t resist picking that piece of lint off your sweater. Why? Because crooked pictures, or lint, or incorrectly placed adverbs are annoying. It all just depends on who you talk to.

In the end, all grammar freaks really want is for everyone to speak and write correctly. Because, really, what’s so bad about grammatical correctness? In this increasingly abbrevs-obsessed world, being articulate can set you apart from the “LOL” and “OMG” crowd.

That’s not to say that grammar freaks are perfect people. On the contrary, we could all work a little harder at being a little less…ardent, shall we say, in our love of the English language. We need to understand that some people do get offended when we post Facebook comments correcting their spelling. There are incredibly intelligent people who couldn’t punctuate their way out of a corner, and the occasional typo doesn’t make you a complete cretin. In short, we need to accept the unthinkable: grammar isn’t for everyone.

And so I think that with a little more understanding on both sides, the grammar freaks and the comma-incompetent can learn to live together in peaceful, correctly-punctuated harmony.

– Lizzie