Grammar, the world’s most under-recognized social construct
Sometimes I hate browsing through Facebook because it only reiterates that there are some very mean people there. Whether they realize that they’re mean or not still doesn’t negate the fact that there just some really rude posts.
So much for the golden rule.
I don’t participate in Facebook shenanigans. I have friends who jump at every opportunity to argue with someone online, and although I find these discussions entertaining to read, I have never personally called someone out on their opinion nor ever had the desire to.
Except today. I was livid. I don’t even know why I was so angry because the post in question didn’t even apply to me, but I still felt so personally attacked by it that it warranted this story.
There I was, laying in bed and wrapped up in a cocoon of blankets, just minding everyone’s business on Facebook. I usually don’t even read other people’s posts — Facebook is a strict “food video” venue for me — but it’s the holiday season, so everyone’s gushing about their families. It’s sweet. It makes me feel warm inside.
And then I saw it. In it’s full, “read more” glory, there was a post that publicly, obnoxiously, and passive-aggressively corrected people’s grammar.
As we arrive into the party season —
You will attend multiple parties*, not party’s
You are celebrating holidays*, not holiday’s
They are elves*, not elf’s
This has been another passive aggressive “fucking learn grammar” post.
Let’s take a moment of silence as we sit with the privilege that drips from this post.
There was a part of me that wanted to respond with “grammar is a social construct, you overprivileged and uncultured swine” but I’m actually a nice person. I knew I was too angry to try and calmly educate this person, so I closed the tab and stewed in my anger instead.
Grammar is the world’s most under-recognized social construct.
We’ve all been taught the same thing in school: use proper grammar. Practice proper English. Don’t start a sentence with “and”, “because”, or a preposition. Mind your commas. So I understand where this “grammar snob” culture comes from — but if you sit down and think about all of these rules, who came up with it?
I don’t really know, but probably White people.
Growing up, I’ve always been told, “wow, you’re so good at English!” or “you speak English really well!” It wasn’t that my vocabulary was any better than your average Joe, but it’s because I’m an Asian girl who knows how to speak “proper English”. Because I know synonyms and antonyms and all the other -nyms in the world, I’m applauded.
I’m praised for sounding “white”. And that’s just racist.
The fact of the matter is, sounding “White” equates to being educated. Having correct grammar, speaking with complex words, using varied syntax — these concepts, these actually really difficult concepts, must mean that I’m highly educated and those who are unable to form sentences with that kind of sophistication aren’t.
Grammar is classist, it’s ableist, and it’s oppressive. It reeks of privilege, and those who spend their time correct others’ grammar do too.
Both of my parents are immigrants — they were lucky though, because they came to the U.S. young enough to be able to go to college here. But even before that, they knew the importance of education so I will be the first to say that I have an abundance of educational privilege. My parents were the first ones who taught me that an A is good and an F means I’m spending my free time chained to a desk until I can recite the alphabet backwards. My dad didn’t buy me Barbie books to read — I spent my weekends tracing the sentences over and over again. I was lucky enough to have parents that took me to the library during school holidays and did their best to help me with my homework, even if it meant spending hours Google translating words they didn’t know well. I was pushed to go to college, and then to pharmacy school. I had extracurriculars like SAT prep and PCAT prep. School always came first.
Imagine if I didn’t have parents like them. You’ve all seen the movies — a hopeful high school teacher tries to get a bunch of inner city kids to pass a standardized test. Said kids are berated throughout the entire movie, being told they’ll never graduate, coming from abusive backgrounds, being surrounded by drugs and gangs and other adversities. Their “lack of education” is a recurrent theme throughout the movie that they’ll never make something of themselves because they don’t focus in school. Newsflash: there are kids like that out there. There are kids who grow up to become adults who could potentially speak in grammar that would piss off every grammar snob in the world — but that doesn’t mean they’re dumb. That doesn’t mean they’re not doing their best with what they can. School is not everyone’s forte, but it’s unfortunately where you learn the mechanics of “proper English.” We forget that we’re all different learners, and some people just don’t like school.
Not everyone has the opportunity nor want the opportunity to learn “proper grammar”, but that doesn’t make them any less of a person and believing that just because they say “elf’s” instead of “elves” makes them stupid makes you look like the idiot.
My uncle is a pharmacist, and has been one for 20 years now. He came to the U.S. when he was in his late teens, and attended the University of Texas where he got a bachelor’s in pharmacy (before it became a doctorate degree). The University of Texas is one of the highest ranked schools in Texas, and is in the top 15 pharmacy schools in the nation. He knows everything there is to know about medications, and is the kindest, most patient soul you could ever be blessed to have as your pharmacist.
He’s my hero, but he doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too”.
When he speaks, there’s an accent. He jumbles up his words sometimes. He struggles finding the right word to say, and it might take him a minute or two to compose a more difficult sentence. He’s been the pharmacy manager of two different retail chains, but when he speaks, people treat him like a third class citizen. There’s a doctor title in front of his name, but because of his grammar, people forget. When we deem people as working class, or as inferior to us because of the way their grammar is or the way they say certain words or because of their accents or their incorrect use of the English language, that’s when we become classist. Oppressive. We create a subconscious barrier between us and them.
So “as we arrive into the holiday season” (which is, by the way, the incorrect use of the word arrive if we really want to fix grammar here), get your head out of your ass and check your privilege at the door. Realize that grammar has nothing to do with intellectual capacity, but has everything to do with people. It is the self-proclaimed grammar snob that turned grammar from an appreciation of language to a divider of friends. So instead of fixating on the way your grandmother misuses her plural forms on Facebook, why don’t you just pick up the phone and listen to her talk instead?
I promise it won’t kill you.