Friday, August 10, 2012

"Sorry about my grammar."

In face-to-face conversations, on the phone, and smattered all over the web, I keep hearing the same words. It must be a conspiracy. Aliens abducted my friends and clients and put a little doodad inside that goes off when triggered by an editor.

“Sorry—my grammar sucks.”

Grammar is the catch-all for writing mistakes. It isn't technically correct, but everyone understands what it means. When you say grammar, you might be meaning your spelling, your syntax, your usage, etc. Just like you might say “music” and mean pitch, tone, or beat.

“The grammar was off. Must really bug you, dude.”

It doesn’t.

Now let me qualify that statement: I will notice English mistakes if you’re paying me. I may even notice if you’re not paying me, but chances are, I’ll keep my mouth shut. This, as far as I have been able to discern, is profession-wide, for two reasons:

1) Why work for free? (Alternatively, I’ve heard,“It’s too much like work.”)
2) Editors have worked with people long enough to know that everyone makes mistakes. You do, we do—errare humanum est.


I won’t bring up that nonsense that the language is changing—of course it is, but that doesn’t mean we don’t conform to a style now—but language is about communication. If you understand, half the work is done. The rest is about getting it to be pretty. Editors are glorified interior designers. How could we possibly take ourselves seriously?

If you know someone who constantly corrects your English, he or she is probably not an editor. You’ve discovered a member of the vast underground of grammar police, or grammar nazis, so-named because they approach English like a fascist government. I usually don’t like to use “grammar nazi” to denote people who care about English, but some—especially people operating on the Internet—think correcting language is the trump card of argument. Like this gem of reasoning:

SPELLING AND GRAMMER ; NOT YOUR STRONG SUIT

Ouch. To be candid, I have had my ugly moments as a grammar nazi. Back when I was a stupid teenager, I used to correct everyone, and my favorite? Adverbs. Shouting LY! at everyone, and not in the goofy Richard Henry Lee way. My poor mom got the brunt of my newfound grammar powers. Honest-LY! Glad-LY! Patient-LY! Mom eventually gave up and said everything was goodly.

Becoming an editor changed me. No matter how good you are at editing, something will slip through. Now there’s a cold dash of water to the ego! I just wish I could give that experience to the Internet grammar police, so they’d stop holding my friends and clients hostage over “grammar.” Take heed out there! You don’t want to end up like this guy. I spotted him while lurking in an English help forum. He was so utterly assured of his rightness:

Dumbass its Latin the plural of penis is peni.

(The plural is penises, if you’re curious. That'll be two cents, please.)

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