Language is becoming more mobile

Grammar police

I love the English language. Adore it. The subject, the verb, the occasional overwrought adjective to bring it all together and make it gleam. Language is the most efficient vehicle for expression, and nothing mars its clean lines quicker than a misspelling or grammatical error.

But grammar police, we have to stop.

Now, there is a time and place for correction. Trust me, I know. I have been corrected, gleefully and smugly, because nothing gets people more excited than correcting a mistake made by a writer. With a lot of writing, corrections are necessary. If it’s a paper, correct it. A resume? Correct it. An article? Yup, correct it. 

Those are all instances where the credibility of what is being said is directly correlated to such matters as spelling and grammar. Errors indicate a lack of seriousness, of thoughtfulness, and correction is not just needed; it’s welcomed.

But we live in an age where a lot of our “writing” is done via cell phone, with our big, fat, human fingers tapping on tiny, sensitive little screens, with our missives becoming ever more mobile and — yes — messy.

A mistyped word is not an indicator of intelligence failure. More often, it’s an indicator of a big thumb, or a message typed out while balancing a baby on a hip or while waiting in line for a coffee. These statements aren’t meant to be written in stone, emblazoned in permanency. They are, like most statuses, fleeting moments captured quickly.

The importance of what’s being said is less tied to whether “too” was used correctly than other forms of writing.

I get it. I know. I see you cringing. I see you wince when “there, their, they’re” are interchanged and why does everyone use the possessive in instances when its clearly not meant to be a possessive? I feel your stress rising, your need to reach out and succinctly correct…but don’t.

Because when you correct someone who isn’t asking to be corrected, you are the one who actually looks bad.

A study from the University of Michigan showed that whether people correct others grammar is a pretty good indicator of their overall pleasantness. The negative conception of grammar police comes from not just their willingness to point out flaws in others, but from the smugness they express because they have the added conceit of believing they are doing the world a favor by pointing out the difference between “effect” and “affect.”

(Side note: Use the word “impact.” It’s much easier.)

In other words, while people who habitually have typos may be a little careless, people who are compelled to correct grammar are jerks.

You wouldn’t interrupt a friend who was talking because of a grammatical mistake, would you? (And if you would, then it’s a wonder you have many friends with which to begin.) We need to start looking at some forms of writing as being more like speech, in that it’s spontaneous, even though it’s seen rather than heard. Our language, like much of our lives, has become more mobile. Literally. We need to move with it and that means, in some instances, shrugging off the occasional “to” instead of “too.”

So, take a deep breath, look beyond the typo, and read what’s really being said. Even with a typo or two, a lot of what’s being written is worth being heard. 

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