Grammar Bullies

Good afternoon. Today we will be discussing the thorny issue of grammar and spelling. Or grammer as I prefer to spell it.

As an avid Facebooker (is that the right word?) I’ve become dismayed to find friends joining groups such as ‘If You Can’t Differentiate Between “Your” and “You’re” You Deserve To Die.’ and ‘I judge you when you use poor grammar.’

You see, I wasn’t too bothered about good/bad grammar and spelling until the advent of the Grammar Bully (or Grammar Snob). Or Lynn Truss, as the devil child is known. Her “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” book kicked off the recent trend of looking down on those who use punctuation and grammar incorrectly.

And my response is…. piffle.

As someone on Facebook quite rightly stated, ‘it is an extremely outlandish and bigoted comment… saying something like that to a dyslexic, is like saying to a deaf person, “If You Can’t Hear You Deserve To Die”‘.

And as Bill Bryson wrote about in his excellent book “Mother Tongue”, the English language is constantly evolving. In Shakespeare’s time it was still quite volatile – indeed, on one page alone he spelt one word in about a dozen different ways. Many of the differences between the English and American language is down to the same thing – at the time the US was settled, the “modern” English language was still fluctuating. With a vast difference between the two nations, changes occurred in one language that didn’t therefore happen with the other. Take the word “sidewalk” which we called the pavement. Except we used to call it the sidewalk and changed it. The US stuck with it. But, arrogant as the British are, we often accuse the US of changing just to be awkward.

And if you look at the way we communicate these days – rushed, electronic means – then the need to get punctuation right is surely less of an issue? In fact, there was an excellent discussion about this last week on BBC Breakfast News. A University Professor was tired about the poor punctuation and grammar from his students. However, other than that he hadn’t thought anything through and ended up looking like a buffoon for most of the interview. On the other hand they had a nice lady (who’s name I can’t recall) who believes the English language should be simplified. She’d thought through her arguments and put the Professor to shame.

It takes 3 times longer to teach the English language in Britain than it does to teach the equivalent native language in other European countries. That’s simply because it’s such a tough language – mainly because it follows rules for some of the times and other times doesn’t. So a lot of spelling, for example, has to be learnt on a word-by-word basis.

This ladies argument is that rules should be stuck to rigidly and words simplified where there are multiple meanings. For example, beech and beach. Why two spellings? The context in which you use them gives away which ones you mean. “At the weekend we went to the beach”. “My table is made of beech”. When we speak to someone, we don’t have to spell out these words – the context is assumed. So why do anything different when we write? And the same with punctuation. Taking the previous Facebook group example, if I say “Your leg is on fire” or “You’re leg is on fire” it wouldn’t make a difference. So why is it a murdering offence (apparently) to write it wrong?

There is even a comment on one of these groups from one individual who “hates” when people abbreviate in text messages. Now, hold on… let’s go back to modern communication. You’re restricted to the length of a text message and have to type it using a small number of keys. Why do you think people use abbreviations? When they use it in everyday writing, now that I can understand. But in texts? Get a grip. I think there are far more offensive things in the world to get wound up about.

Another example… quoting from Faceboook….

“there’s a place near my house which sells ‘Kebab’s’ lol. Indicating that the shop is in fact owned by a Kebab.”

Now I could immediately point out starting the sentence without a capital, and their use of “lol” (without punctuation before it), but that would be petty. However, looking at what they’re trying to say, does anybody believe that they saw the word “Kebab’s” out side a Kebab shop and it confused them. Actually, considering the IQ of some of these people who are grammar snobs, then maybe they were. But then I suspect the correct punctuation wouldn’t have helped.

We all know what they mean by that sign, and that’s what’s critical.

It’s all rather eloquently summed up by Marcus Brigstocke’s recent entry on Room 101:

The example he gives is where a sign says “Apple’s 30p”

Grammar Bully: Mmmm, so the 30 pence belongs to the apples does it? No, I don’t think it does at all, no I think you meant 30 pence for the apples…

Marcus Brigstocke: Just buy the fruit and piss off!

God only knows how many mistakes I’ve made in this Blog but… hey… I don’t care. And if you care to judge me, fine. I’m not stupid. I’m not unintelligent. I’m not dyslexic. I’ve just got better things to do with my time than think about punctuation, which I learnt at school about 25 years ago now, and will actually make no difference to what I’m trying to say and generally put over.


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