My linguistic philosophy

I love spell cheque, because it’s hard to keep the spellings of correct words strait. I mean, if you’re going to correct people, bee discrete about it.

Did those sentences hurt you deeply?

If not, you may possibly be unable to relate to this.

(Corrections include cheque – check, bee – be, strait – straight, discrete – discreet. I can’t resist correcting myself. Word doesn’t recognize these errors. For that, we need AI that can learn and understand language, capable of absorbing and applying definitions, context, syntax, variations, etcetera. Damn you, Word.)

Grammar Nazis. Proudly emblazoned with the official grammar swastika and committed to our mission to “unnerve and correct”, we patrol the comment sections of the bowels of the Internet.  Personally, I prefer the term “linguistic prescriptivist”, although this approach, often contrasted with linguistic descriptivism, is rather illogical and incomprehensive in itself.

On the one hand, standardization makes it simpler to understand and construct sentences to convey ideas. On the other hand, it’s elitist to raise one language above another. The meaning of language evolves along with style conventions. Back to the first hand, it appears professional and preserves etymological roots. On the other hand, we should be describing language as it is, not as we think it should be. People lean towards descriptivism. It’s condescending to offer unsolicited advice, and downright uncouth to disparage those who are not fluent in the language. Even this piece (notice the sentence fragments in the very first line) should not be “grammatically correct” to the last rule, as it were, as that type of language tends to belie pomposity and outdated norms. It’s insufferable even now. Imagine a whole paragraph of things like “Prepositions are things with which sentences must not end.” Other “errors” are more stylistic and ambiguous, which does not bode well for prescriptivism (I mean, if you can’t keep track of your own rules, how can you expect others to follow them?): Espresso is the proper Italian, but –es was a corruption of ex- something in Latin. Examples abounded – then dictionaries, taking the descriptivist route, decide to include the error. Voila: a (semi)-accepted variant is born. Split infinitives – it’s a ridiculous piece of stupidity that boggles my brain: our verbs aren’t really true infinitives the way, say, French verbs do. Using “like” instead of “as” is natural, almost like breathing now.

Hypercorrection is incorrect. It’s something up with which I will not put.

Online, there is no need for this corrective behavior. I have devised an entire Manual of Style addressing every single facet of Internet misuse of the English language in order to prevent distress in viewers of such linguistic transgressions. Now they’re no longer transgressions! People type in netspeak for convenience, and errors are more often due to inattention or legitimate conditions such as dyslexia than lack of education (which may still not be their fault). As long as you can understand it, right? Besides, if they don’t ask for help correcting it, you shouldn’t correct it anyway. It amounts to nothing unless you can force them to edit their comment to purge the Internet of that admittedly unsightly blemish. It’s not impressive to be able to spot a misspelling of something like “cymotrichous” or “autochthonous” anymore (although, please use the right “its”, “there” and “definitely” instead of “defiantly”, it’s killing me). Also, you have to be careful not to fall prey to Skitt’s Law (which basically means that you make an error when you correct someone), because that hurts your case as a grammar lover.

That’s why I’m proposing the launch of a new movement: Descriptive Prescriptivism, or Prescriptive Descriptivism, where we embrace everyone’s differences instead of nitpicking every stylistic choice (Oxford comma, and/or construction, italics for et al.), while acknowledging the need for some sort of system for determining correct use for comprehension and coherency.

I can hear your objections.

“It’s not that important.”

You’re absolutely correct.

“You’re not better than me just because you have perfect grammar.”

That’s right.

“So why do you care about this?”

I don’t know. Why does anyone care about anything?

“Aren’t there more important issues in the world?”

You’re right again. There are. But I can’t deal with any of those. Are you kidding me? I’m an apathetic sixteen-year-old who argues with herself over which linguistic philosophy to embrace!

My grammar is far from perfect, so I just know I’m pissing off some editor higher up on the stickler echelon. I have struggled time and time again to make my writing more accessible for the masses. Therefore, I follow regular, colloquial writing standards. (And failing a bit. I suck at public speaking and writing moving speeches and writing in general. How many times per day do I think “what a flipping stupid thing to say” and “shut your fladoodling mouth” to myself? Too many to count.)

The thing about me and grammar (yes, that’s correct) is that I know it’s stupid to obsess over it. I mean, capitals (which is often more a question of style) and punctuation?! Who freaking cares?! Well, I actually know the answer: Me, and people like me.

We are tolerated at times, and hated at others, and we are a vast group ranging from the most stick-in-the-mud obsessive pedant to the laissez-faire part-time aficionado.  Why can’t we stop? Some of us are arrogant and consider ourselves and our usage superior, which would constitute linguistic imperialism. But me? NO! I only correct in select situations, when asked to explicitly, and always politely! I am not superior for using “correct” English! I enjoy it not because it puts me above other lowly thesaurus abusers but because I love the written word. I love language and literature and reading. I love it like some people love music or sports. A thousand letters singing in harmony on a page, the still-living ideas of a long-dead author – this is what I want to preserve. 

I want – no, NEED – nah, want – to correct people. I really do. But it’s because some constructions cause me literal physical and psychical pain. Consider a complex or compound sentence with a comma splice and no comma at the right place. Expecting the wondrous harmony of the text to caress your eyeballs as you read the words, you are unprepared for how it stumbles out like a staggering drunkard.

Here’s what it’s like:

I’m reading a sentence and there’s like no commas andthewordsjustkindofruntogetherinmyhead and all of the sudden BAM! Comma. And then my mental voice trips over the comma, landing face first into the next clause, as the paragraph lurches on.

“No!” I shriek in horror, clutching my chest. “Comma splice! Comma splice!”

I look at the others, at their uncomprehending faces, as they behold the UTTER MONSTROSITY THAT IS THE UNHOLY COMMA SPLICE and I know, they don’t feel this the way I do. 

And it’s stupid. I know it’s stupid. I am ASHAMED that the one thing that I’m passionate about,  the one thing that can move me to furious-spitting-cat-mode is fucking COMMAS. It’s ridiculous. All the living beings dying in the world and I’m raging about COMMAS.

But I can’t help it. As long as I am well-behaved, my keen eye for semicolon misplacement, and other “talents” have use. Under my new Descriptivist Prescriptivism, we can band together in a more grammatical and less condescending world.

 

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