If somebody’s crack is showing, are you not disgusted? If you see a booger hanging out of someone’s nose do you not cringe and look away?
Once I saw my (not current) boss pick up a newspaper and walk straight into the men’s room with it tucked under his arm. If I didn’t lose all my respect for him immediately from the mental image of him settling down for a nice comfy poop with the sports section, his dignity’s fate was well and truly sealed later that day when he stood up and made a speech to the entire staff with his fly undone.
I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
I once went on a date with a guy who had one very prominent nose hair. I kept staring at it, I couldn’t pay attention to a word he said, I sure as hell didn’t kiss him and I never called him back because of that hair. And I can’t help but think that if only someone (or me) had said something, all of this awkwardness and embarrassment could have been avoided.
But like it or not, we all do it (or variations of it). We judge, we giggle, we’ll even blog about rogue boogers and bum cracks. We can be so prudent in keeping our own human bodily functions in check, yet we hesitate to pull people up on the things they can actively and consciously control. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about the axis on which the world rotates: The use of spelling and grammar in the English language. See? I told you I was going somewhere with this.
If you had food on your face you’d want someone to tell you, right? If you had spinach in your teeth you’d prefer to know about it than to go to a job interview like that, yes? Well, don’t count on that happening anymore because, either I’ve been inhaling internetsbestos for too long, or we’re all becoming just a little too precious to be told when something’s up.
With all of these social faux pas, with everything we’re not supposed to do in public for fear of being judged and rejected by society, you would think that a little help would be welcomed. So why are we so quick to call others self righteous assholes or a know-it-alls when they try to help us by correcting a typo? Why are they not met with a sincere ‘Thank you’, or a ‘Sheesh, that could have been embarrassing!’ like a friend would do if you were to pull a bug out of their hair? Because actually, when someone corrects your spelling they’re really not doing it to make you feel bad.
Sure, it’s a little embarrassing when someone tells you there’s sauce on your chin. But they told you. And they told you so that you could wipe it off and not walk around like a sauce-faced slob all day. They know you’re not a slob, and they don’t want strangers you meet thinking you’re a slob either. They have your best interests at heart. And when someone corrects a typo they are doing the exact same thing. They are paying you a courtesy.
‘Oh, who cares? Get off you’re high horse’ (yes, that was excruciating to write), is only making it worse. Believe it or not, a presentation, a proposal, an essay or any significant document has the capacity to lose all credibility with the use of a single, all-powerful typo. The typo is a tyrant. It will make us look foolish, it will turn us from respectable leaders into lowly minions in the eyes of those who should look up to us. I’m sorry to say it, but it really can change the way people think about you as a person. And it’s not just those big presentations we write, it’s emails, texts and everyday banter too.
Language is what we go to school to learn, first and foremost. We learn to sound out words, to listen, to pronounce, and we learn to read and write. These are the foundations of our entire education system, and yet we’re so quick to throw it under the bus and pretend it doesn’t matter. Why? Are we so self-absorbed that we think people will understand what we’re trying to say regardless of how we write it down? I often hear the words, “Oh, you know what I meant”, and, “What’s the big deal?”. It’s a war I used to win, but now I feel as if those of us who care about spelling and grammar are being outnumbered by the ‘close enough, that’ll do’ tribe. Can you imagine being of a non-English-speaking background and trying to translate this shit?
Thousands of us donate money to third world countries so that less fortunate children can have a chance at an education. Not acknowledging your language is like throwing fresh food down the toilet. Not showing your child the importance of their words is the same as teaching them to waste water. People are starving for knowledge, and here we are throwing it away.
I’m not talking about a slip of the keyboard here, or a funny, obvious autocorrect. I’m talking about real grammatical errors that completely change the meaning of the words we’re writing down. I’m talking about the ‘ignorant typos’ – the your/you’re, their/there/they’re, lose/loose, should of/should have, apostrophe bandits and ‘William Shatner Comma’ culprits. I’m talking about the people who refuse to take it on board when they are gently set straight.
As an average member of the human race (not a Cambridge scholar or an English professor or a member of Mensa or a rocket scientist), I can tell you that the second I spot an ‘ignorant typo’ is the second you lose me. I have corrected my bosses and been fired for it. I have corrected my colleagues and been called a jerk and a bitch. Should I have saved my own backside so that they didn’t feel embarrassed in front of one person, but then continued to embarrass themselves in front of others? How could they not see that I was only trying to help? Nobody wants to feel stupid, I get that. But a reasonably intelligent person would surely appreciate that a quick and uncomfortable ‘excuse me’ on the way out of a ladies room is far, far better than walking through an entire restaurant with toilet paper on your heel.
There is a line between being correct and being anal. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of the whole who/whom debate, and I refrain from writing to Woolworths to tell them that ‘stationary’ doesn’t mean what they think it means, or that the ‘8 Items or Less’ lane is the bane of my shopping experience. I’m sure I make grammatical errors as well, but I assure you that if someone points one out to me I will fix it, absorb it, and be grateful for the courtesy. You would never chastise a teacher for educating you. After all, knowledge is power.
But thankfully when I correct my husband, whose native language is not English, do you know what he says? He says, ‘Thank you, baby. You always have my back’. I often proof-read things for friends who are writers and do you know what they say? They say, ‘Thank God you got it before my editor did!’.
Us Grammar Nazis may not be the heroes this language wants, but I am inclined to say that we may just be the heroes it needs.
This language is a gift. I beg of you, treasure it, and use it wisely.