An investigation into what drives the self-appointed language police
I don't claim to know any more about language than the next boyishly handsome, drily amusing chap with a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye.
However, I admit there are times I have put on my correction wellies and trampled all over the words of others. Times I have felt the buzz of self-importance as I tweaked apostrophes and mocked contractions.
I’m not proud of this. I am dealing with it. But once you have tasted the wonders of a grammatical high, it’s terribly hard to stop chasing the linguistic dragon.
I mention this after receiving feedback to Literally Everyone Can Stop Correcting Literally Now. There were suggestions I showed an apparent disdain for the Grammar Genius. There have been accusations of hypocrisy, double-standards, and inverted snobbery. A French correspondent likened me to Monsieur Le Pot, crying J'accuse a ma famille de bouilloires.
To clear up any confusion, I feel I should talk about a subset of people who are similar to the Grammar Genius... but with differences that are both nuanced and pronounced.
I call this group the Word Worriers.
The Word Worrier is just as passionate about language as the Grammar Genius.
But they worry.
They worry an awful lot.
About an awful lot.
The Grammar Genius Word Worrier Segmentation Project
In order to help bring to life the subtle differences in these two groups of people, I created the GGWWSP. It focuses on five lifestages so we can easily pull out key differences between them.
With the results of the two groups laying side by side, it is clear to see how formative experiences, environment and assumed norms all combine to create opposing personality traits and attitudes in adulthood.
And though we have looked at the lives of others, maybe we can also spot parts of ourselves that could be improved upon if we are to better help others.
First, let's look at the different behaviours that are being displayed today.
The Grammar Genius
Also known, rather unkindly, as the Grammar Nazi, the Grammar Genius takes great pride in their ability to correct poor grammar. When they show this ability in public, they believe others become deferential to the intelligence it displays.
The Grammar Genius doesn't consider whether they have a better knowledge of linguistics than anyone else. They don't consider other views or opinions at all.
Instead, the Grammar Genius holds as gospel the rules written hundreds of years ago – primarily by men of privilege and religion – in the original English Grammars.
Though many of these were mainly adaptations of Latin Grammars, with the addition of the aesthetic preferences of their respective authors, the Grammar Genius ignores any talk of subjectivity and sees only the authority they have from age.
The Grammar Genius has complete self-belief and unshakeable self-confidence, armed with what they see as facts. They have a simple idea of right and wrong; what they know is right, and the opinion of others is wrong.
They dismiss any view which may contradict their own in the way they would dismiss the statement that the earth is flat. Or that God isn't real.
The Word Worrier
The Word Worrier may have a similar or better knowledge of the same rules of grammar.
The Word Worrier knows that pointing out so-called mistakes without invitation is futile. They know it is rare for these misuses to have impeded the understanding of the intent.
They realise that other people find their tips more irritating than informative. Or even interesting.
The anxiety of the Word Worrier comes from knowing that when they do correct people, they don't look helpful or clever.
They just look a bit of a twat.
Of course, the Word Worrier still gets the compulsion to correct. So it's understandable that people compare all grammarians to supporters of the Third Reich.
There is an incomparable high to be gained from being right. The Grammar Genius stores that high – blind to the lack of interest shown – and it leads to hours of self-congratulation.
The Word Worrier has an almost immediate comedown – kicking in when they see their pride reflected as distaste – and it leads to hours of self-flagellation.
Such are the differences that the GGWWSP aims to understand more by considering their driving forces. If it can lead any of us tempering our future actions and reactions, then it will have been worth it.
I should clarify that the term project is being used in its loosest term and should not be taken to mean that this involved any solid research or has any quotable source material. The word project just had a better ring to it than something like 'opinion piece'.
The information in these articles should not be seen as evidence. Of anything or for anything. There were no processes in place for this to warrant the name research'; specifically in terms of quantity (of subjects and sources) and quality (of questions answered).
I'm hoping that nobody will be unduly concerned about this - what with us being in unprecedented times and all. For anyone taking issue, I mumble something vague about Covid restrictions, shrug my shoulders and, with palms raised up to the heavens, remind people how we're so much better together. Tends to silence every critic.
The point is: don't rely on this as the basis for any future argument, whether that argument is in a pub or a court of law. Unless of course you hold on to the information for the next 500 years or so. By then it will have the same authority by virtue of age as is given to the original Grammars.
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