Using someone’s spelling/grammar against them or to invalidate what they say or to form an opinion about them is, in my opinion, a first cousin to the tone argument because it doesn’t address the substance of someone’s statement but rather the method in which it was delivered, and requires that someone meet another’s standard to be allowed into and recognized in a discussion.
If someone is saying something wrong, something absurd, something not reasonable, something hurtful - then address that. Address the substance, not the method.
I really used to be one of those grammar sticklers (and btw, if you use the term “grammar nazi”, we’re done because comma splicing and genocide aren’t even remotely the same thing. Ever.)
Then I realized these things about grammar:
1. Grammar is arbitrary at the best of times, and actually varies from style to style. Anyone who’s done academic, journalistic, or professional writing or editing knows that what’s correct in say, the Chicago Manual of Style may be completely different according to MLA (Modern Language Association) rules and that these rules are sometimes deliberately changed/updated/rearranged.
The same with other types of grammar, and indeed, with grammar over time. Rewind the clock fifty or a hundred years and you’ll find that in the English language (especially in U.K. and U.S. and Canadian usage) what was considered correct in 1910 or even 1950 is wrong now and vice versa.
Control of “proper” language is about privilege and it’s about controlling communication and being able to invalidate communication that isn’t arbitrated by an established authority.
Basically, at it’s worst, it’s about silencing the marginalized.
2. Being taught this standardized grammar in a way that you understand and being able to use it in all instances in a way that is considered “correct” is SO FUCKING PRIVILEGED.
First, because being at a school that has the resources to teach you in a way that makes this stuff stick in your brain is about being privileged economically, socially, and even in your abilities. Many schools across this planet struggle daily to have buildings and books and paper and enough room and enough teachers. If you’re at a school that can take the time to teach you “you’re” versus “your” or some equivalent in another language, you’re privileged. Don’t use that to derail and disrupt and act like an ass to less privileged folks and disregard the things they say.
Second, there are a lot of different forms of disability that make grammar a pain in the ass at the best of times. Or hell, just different types of neurology that make grammar something that’s easier for some people to grasp than others. The same way that numbers and math come easily to some and not others. I tend to get called articulate and well spoken because I’m one of those types that just gets grammar. Not because I’m better or smarter. I’m just lucky. My brain knows what to do with words and language structures.
Sit me down with numbers and equations? I start blowing fuses in my head. It doesn’t make me stupider or worse than those who don’t even need calculators. It just makes me different.
Third, specific to this example, not all people speak English as their first language. Not all people learn English as a second (or third, or so on) language in a formal setting. So these types of rules are not something they’d come across and frankly aren’t that useful for helping them communicate. This is not a mark against them. They are not illiterate. They are a person who natively speaks another language.
3. As a reformed Grammar Stickler, I now believe that grammar and spelling are correct so long as they facilitate communication and help people transmit their ideas successfully. Meaning - yes, having a period at the end of a sentence or at least a space or some kind of mark to break apart two ideas so that I understand them as being individual and not part of each other is a good thing. But if you should want to use three exclamation points or just a line break rather than a period, that’s fine. I’m not going to shoot down you telling me a very important truth just because you spliced it with a comma or ZOMG YOU TOTALLY MISSPELLED SOMETHING. Fuck that.
The only time to point out and grammar or spelling is when it honestly prevents you, the reader, from understanding what it is being communicated. And even then, you don’t correct the grammar (as you are not the author and therefore do not know what the author is trying to communicate), you just ask politely, if you can, for clarification.
But if you should say YOUR and not YOU’RE, big deal. If I get what you’re trying to say and the point got across and I understand that you are talking about something that belongs to me or pertains to me, I don’t give a damn about an apostrophe and an extra letter.
Especially if what you’re trying to communicate is something vital, something like a lived experience or a plea for help or a deeply held belief or something important to you.
And if I disagree with you, I’m going to point out the flaws in your statement, not your spelling. A bad idea spelled perfectly is still a bad idea, and a good idea spelled “improperly” is still a good idea.
I’ve never, ever thought of grammar in this way. Strunk and White is one of my favorite books. It actually rests on my nightstand, within reach for late night reading.
But this post has really got me thinking.