Bourgeois Values Pt. 1:
Why I Don’t Respect Your Grammar Lust
Someone wrote me and asked me the following question:
How can you write poetry but be so hostile towards a feeling for grammar?
Easily, you jerk. Is that an acceptable answer? I suppose not. It’s such an absurd question that I’m not even sure where to begin. Okay, how about this: would we think it reasonable for a mechanic to insist that everyone ought to be able to fix their own car? Would we think it reasonable for a physicist to expect all others to be able to solve differential equations? Of course not. It makes no sense to insist that all others have the same skills as we do. I am a writer and I have no special love for grammar. No, I do not expect others to write, spell, or speak well.
HRU? R u ok? Does this kind of speak annoy the piss out of you? You may not like it, but you understood what I was asking. In fact, I suppose I communicated my thoughts more efficiently as I used fewer symbols. You were probably able to discern the questions upon first glance and without doing much thinking at all.
We have to begin with the notion of language. Words have no intrinsic meaning. They are mere symbols. A tree is not a ‘tree.’ It is what it is — the thing we refer to by using the word tree. Language uses symbols, which we call words, to allow us to communicate ideas and make reference to common things. The purpose of language rules — grammar, syntax, etc. — is to make communication easier, to make this exchange of ideas as exact as possible, but the bottom line is this: if an idea gets transferred from one person to another using symbols (words), the act of communication was a success. The particulars don’t matter. The ideas do. Placing such a high value on rule-following is silly and wasteful — wasteful of your time, and of everyone else’s time. It’s petty and pedantic, this emphasis on formality and cannon. It’s the kind of thing for Kantians. Are you a Kantian?
Let’s revisit my example about the mechanic. You most likely agree that it would be unreasonable for her to expect that everyone ought to be able to fix their own cars. But I think it would be reasonable for her to critique the work of her fellow mechanics if she does indeed have some worthwhile criticism to offer. Writers comment on writing, chemists on chemistry and their peers, etc. But so often, people believe themselves to be expert enough to police the conversational and informal writing of everyone on the internet. Why? Well, I’ll offer a guess. Perhaps it’s because that’s all they have to make them feel intelligent. Grammar lust is for those who want to feel smart. It is for people who value the idea of intelligence and desire it as a personality trait rather than seeing it for what it is: a byproduct of experience, failure, curiosity, and above all else, privilege.
Everyone learns how to write in grade school, so it IS fair to hold them to that standard.
You learned chemistry and probably calculus in high school. How about we put you to the test? How do you think you’d preform? No, not everyone did learn how to write in school. I didn’t know that ‘you’r’ isn’t a word until I enrolled in community college and was lucky enough to have a professor who spent hours with me, one-on-one, teaching me the basics, basics which i didn’t learn — for many reasons — in school. Now I can write a pretty decent academic paper. Woo? Being able to do this is an irrelevant skill for almost everyone in the world. It’s just not that useful. The folks who don’t know the differences between the ‘theres’ are doing just fine! They’re communicating successfully, albeit unpolishedly.
Grammar is like table manners: unless you’re royalty, you don’t really need to know what side the spoon goes on. You merely need to know how to use it to get the food into your mouth. At a fancy dinner party, fancy people may look at you like a fool for eating your soup with the desert spoon, but who cares? They’re fancy jerks anyway. If you got it into your mouth, you did it the right way. Unless you’re an academic, where it is imperative to communicate your ideas in an extremely succinct and accurate way, you don’t really need to know where to put that comma. If you’re able to communicate your ideas, you did it. Period.
My professor boyfriend admitted to being put-off by grammatical errors and text-speak in emails he receives from students. Why? Because it’s unprofessional. Interestingly, this is a man who complains about not being allowed to wear sandals while teaching. His standards for informal communication between he and his students are absurd, and I believe he feels this way merely because of academic folkways. A student emailing him from her phone might replace the word ‘are’ with the letter ‘r’ to save time and energy, or for any other number of reasons, but this says nothing of her academic abilities, and it says nothing of her as a human being. Her substitution says as much about her ability to be a student as his exposed toes would say about his ability to be a professor, namely, nothing at all. Sandals are comfortable, so is using text-speak, and both of these choices are meaningless.
I remain uncareful when writing informally — like I am right now. I make my own words when existing words don’t seem to most accurately represent what I am trying to communicate. For example, ‘uncareful’ is not granted the status of being a real word; however, I chose it for specific reasons, used it, and thereby, deemed it real. The thing is, there cannot exist a word which is not real. If you use it to refer to something, it is a word. It’s just that simple.
“Don’t write to me unless you use ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’ correctly.”
Why do I say all of this? Because you grammar people infuriate me, you really do, because the way you treat people is harmful. You attempt to hold people to out-of-context standards merely because you can, and you use your privilege to make others feel inferior to you. That’s so incredibly insensitive, and frankly, ignorant.
Some of you are saying to yourselves, “Hey, I have my standards. I’m entitled to my standards.” Well, sure, but that you have such flimsy and ill-reasoned standards is ridiculous and harmful. Your standards are exactly what I’m criticizing. I am criticizing you for thinking that your knowledge of proper grammar makes you better than those who don’t have the same understanding. At this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Nu uh. I don’t think I’m better,” but you do, for as you stated in your profile, you won’t even accept messages from those with out that particular knowledge. You’re fortunate to know the differences between ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’. You’re privileged to be educated. So don’t be an asshole about it.