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07 November 2005 @ 10:31 am
Throwing down the gauntlet  
A Nobel laureate once said (paraphrased) Idealism is in direct proportion to one's distance from a problem.

I read Stax's LJ this morning and her rant on your vs. you're.

I was once a grammar nazi, too. Distinctions like that used to bug me.

Now, I go twice a week to work with a woman who often can't distinguish sleep and speed, because she can't read but is trying really hard to learn.

I'm not pissed at anyone, to be clear, but I want to challenge every grammar nazi who knows me to get closer to the problem and face your idealism with some elbow grease, and maybe gain some perspective in the process.

Almost everybody agreed with Stax' rant. Shame on those of you who did. Go teach English to someone who can't read or write. Someone who can't distinguish YOUR and YOU'RE is still doing an amazing thing - they're communicating. They're reading. They're writing. They're semi-literate. They're able to fill out job applications and read forms at the hospital when their daughter is injured. They have an incredible power that an absurd % of the people in our country do not.

Channel that pissy grammar nazi energy into doing something constructive. Go to http://www.literacydirectory.org and find an adult literacy program in your area, and commit to ~6 hours per week tutoring an adult who can't read for the next year. It is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and I think you may find, as I did, what a waste of energy it is to be a grammar nazi when there are far more constructive things literate individuals can be doing to make a difference.
Current Mood: flirting with intolerance
Friend of the Ood.bork on November 7th, 2005 06:46 pm (UTC)
I love you.

I posted something similar after Bush was reelected. Even though I haven't been able to volunteer lately, I'm also trying to not needlessly rail against a world I'm not trying to actively change.

But I'm doing little things, like adopting a semiferal stray cat in need of a home, etc.
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 06:52 pm (UTC)
Yea! It was actually Bush's reelection that prompted me to volunteer for adult literacy. One of the things, among oh so many, that I don't like about this immigration is its anti-immigrant anti-foreign thing. I sat down and said to myself, What can I do to make people from elsewhere more welcome in a country where 94% of my ancestors migrated here from Europe? That's when I decided to try out teaching English as a Second Language. I'm not a good enough teacher to do big class stuff, but I can do one-on-one tutoring twice a week, and it is making a difference.

I know I've asked before but I keep forgetting! I know you in real life, right? I'm pretty sure I do, and I'm embarassed to say I've forgotten again. Ancient linguistics is eating my brain.
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 07:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bork on November 7th, 2005 07:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Strange whimsykindofstrange on November 7th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
I think the irritation comes from the fact that a great deal of the people who make such common errors have no excuse to be making them. Many of them achieved a higher level of schooling than myself, but can't be bothered to communicate effectively because it takes an extra second of mental process to determine the difference between the usage of your vs you're, or the common mispelling of thier.

I agree that literacy is something we should all strive for, and that making fun of someone who is truly trying to learn is just ridiculous, but some people really have no excuse. By excusing poor grammar and spelling usage continuously, we break down the necessity to ever improve one's ability in the future.
Strange whimsykindofstrange on November 7th, 2005 06:49 pm (UTC)
I also recognize the irony of writing this entry a bit too quickly and not correcting my own mistakes. =)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 06:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - domichan on November 7th, 2005 06:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 07:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - eonen on November 8th, 2005 11:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Kriskfrye on November 7th, 2005 07:03 pm (UTC)
I agree with you to a certain extent. Certainly, anyone who is learning English as a 2nd language, or who has a learning disability, or who has some other good reason not to be familiar with all the stupid, nit-picky rules in the English language, should never be criticized for not distinguishing between "your" and "you're" or whatever. In my business, we communicate with people from all over the world on a regular basis, and I'm just happy that they know enough English to be able to communicate with us. Having struggled with German for so long, I'm the last person to criticize someone else's foreign language skills.

However, there are a lot of well educated, intelligent Americans who don't have any excuses for making those mistakes. Maybe finding grammar/spelling issues is just a way to say, "Ah ha! I am more educated/intelligent/wonderful/etc than THAT person because I can spot this mistake! See how cool I am!" but I do get irritated sometimes when I spot mistakes, especially when they're in a newspaper or advertisement or some other place where they really shouldn't be.

On the other hand, I get equally irritated when people purposely use long, important-sounding words to express their point and make them look smart when a shorter word would be more clear and concise but not as flamboyant. There's a woman at my work who uses "utilize" instead of "use" all the time, and it drives me up a wall. I'm an equal opportunity grammar critic.
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)
LAUGH! OK, you've found me out. I have that same pet peeve about the utlitize vs. use thing. My dad was from a blue collar family, but his parents were able to put him through college and he got a white collar job. I watched him throughout my childhood maintain both blue collar and white collar social circles, and how he spoke changed significantly between them. One of the few things my dad intentionally taught me as a child was the importance of speaking at someone's level. The newspapers do it, using a fairly low common denominator of vocabulary, and therefore get the news out to more people. I remember being mortified when I was a teenager to learn that newspapers tend to target something like a 12-year-old reading level.

I dated a high school dropout back in high school, and he was always trying to use big words, often that he didn't quite understand. I wish I could remember some of them, because a few were, well heartbreaking, but also funny if one gets past the sad part of it. Looking back on it, and having the perspective now that I can be a little intimidating or at least was more so when I was the poster child of intelligence elitism (I'm still guilty of it most of the time, and occasionally even support it), I wonder how much he did that to try to impress or compete with my vocabulary because maybe it made him feel inferior...?


I'm with betanoir, though, I've been able to extend my tolerance beyond ESL and learning disability and feel like, if I can interpret a badly constructed sentence or word into something intelligble, it's enough for me. Even if it's laziness vs. a real lack of understanding.

And then there's text messaging on cell phones... which I suspect has the best chance of turning "your" into "ur" 4ever ;)
betabetanoir on November 7th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)
"...but can't be bothered to communicate effectively because it takes an extra second of mental process to determine the difference between the usage of your vs you're, or the common mispelling of thier."

That's assuming that they can actually determine that difference. Do you make the same assumptions with people that can't properly do mathematical equations?

I have met many people that have achieved high levels of education and succeeded in their fields, that still have difficulty grasping certain basic bits of grammar, spelling, and math. As long as it's not dramatically hindering their lives, and they are able to communicate effectively in their jobs and everyday lives, what difference does it make?
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 07:17 pm (UTC)
Amen, woman. I couldn't have said that better.
(no subject) - kindofstrange on November 7th, 2005 07:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - betanoir on November 7th, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kindofstrange on November 7th, 2005 07:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - betanoir on November 7th, 2005 08:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
eukarya on November 7th, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you
There are also some people out there were learning disabilities who will always have problems with reading and writing, no matter how great their education is.
Tracy Lauricellatmib on November 7th, 2005 07:29 pm (UTC)
I participate in a good number of online forums, with a diverse set of users. Demographics for various forums differ widely from forum to forum. I find that I am much more tolerant of bad grammar from certain demographics than others. Perhaps this makes me judgemental or elitist, but I'm ok with that.

Case in point:
On the biker forums I participate in, most of the users are middle aged men and women from blue collar backgrounds. Some are fairly well educated, but for the most part the users I run into on these forums do not have (or need) a great deal of higher education. I am in awe of the knowledge that many of them have, but grammar is not a priority among many of them. Hence, seeing bad pronoun usage, improper apostrophes, incorrect conjunctions, etc. does not bother me there. Those using improper grammar there do not generally know they are doing it, and they are functioning just fine without proper grammar.

I also frequent some gaming forums. The average demographic here is highschool and early college level students, though there are a lot of older and younger users here too. Many times, users of these forums use improper grammar because they are young enough that they have not learned the importance of good grammar. Worse yet, are those that know better but choose to use poor grammar or truncate words because they are too lazy to type properly. (i.e. "u" instead of "you", "i" instead of "I", "sum1" instead of "someone", etc.) I am far less tolerant of this kind of behavior among this demographic. When I run into someone speaking this way actually IN an online roleplaying game, I react to them in character as though they have a really bad accent that I cannot understand. :)

The third major type of forum I participate in are the pipe smoker's forums. The education level here is generally far higher than the others, as is the age level. When someone here uses poor grammar, it doesn't bother me a great deal (other than a minor annoyance) but it does affect the mental picture I have of the person posting.

The overall problem with poor grammar, is that it sends a message of uneducation or unfamiliarity with the language. For someone learning to read, or where English is not their first language, this is to be expected, but often in a written medium, this background information is unknown. For things like job applications, work reports, etc, this can carry very negative connotations about the author.

When I see a business that spends money on a sign that uses improper spelling or grammar, it makes me want to avoid that business, because my confidence in their intelligence is lowered.
Wicked Bitch of the Westsirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC)
I find the source of Stax's rant to be a rarity among people who speak English as a second language. They generally have it down much better than native speakers.

And lets face it, someone posting on on-line forums like LJ, NOT ILLITERATE!

And yes, I have taught people to speak, read and write english. And yes, I give to literacy causes.

And no, there is no excuse for the intellectually lazy who just don't care.

She's not ranting about someone who doesn't speak English or who isn't able to read or write. She's posting about people who are COMMUNICATING THROUGH THE WRITTEN WORD, AND ARE ABLE TO MAKE THOSE DISTINCTIONS AND WHO ARE JUST TOO FUCKING LAZY TO USE A SPELLCHECK OR PAY ATTENTION.

Is it very drafty up there on that moral highground you're inhabiting?
betabetanoir on November 7th, 2005 08:08 pm (UTC)
"Is it very drafty up there on that moral highground you're inhabiting?"

Wow, can't that little bit of snark go both ways?

(no subject) - betanoir on November 7th, 2005 08:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 08:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 08:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - betanoir on November 7th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 09:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 10:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 10:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 11:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
indieindiefic on November 7th, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
Didn't see Stax's rant, but I have to respectfully disagree. As so many other people have said, I believe the irritation stems not from people who are obviously ESL or learning disabled in some way, but educated Americans exhibiting sheer laziness. My irritation is not only with grammar, though that is a very easy one to pick on, but with knowledge in general. When you overhear your supervisor asking the receptionist who Rosa Parks is, that's really goddamn irritating. When she goes on to then ask if Mexico and New Mexico are the same place, I have to control the fist of death.

Yes, some people have very real hurdles, but a lot of the big offenders are just lazy fucks. That irritates me, especially when I see that their ignorance and laziness doesn't seem to hinder them in any way. I think society as a whole should expect more, especially from our education system (and by expecting more, I really mean, we should invest MUCH more monetarily and teachers should be making six figures).

I feel like we're a society that celebrates ignorance. Why take the time to truly understand an issue if you can listen to Bill O'Riley's 15 second soundbyte?

And kudos to people who are learning ESL. As other people have pointed out, they often times have much better language skills than the people turned out by our public education system. More to the point, they feel embarrassed when they make a mistake. Not so with many native speakers.
Wicked Bitch of the Westsirriamnis on November 7th, 2005 08:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you for stating this far more calmly than my sugar-crashing brain was capable of.
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - indiefic on November 7th, 2005 09:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Mila: grr arghm_cobweb on November 7th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC)
I have to add my own viewpoint, which is that of extreme annoyance with people who use grammar nazi-ism to belittle others, and then turn around and do the exact same thing in their own writing. There are a lot of things I can let slide, but that is not one of them.
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 08:39 pm (UTC)
Do you mean grammar nazis who have bad grammar?
(no subject) - m_cobweb on November 7th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - burgunder on November 7th, 2005 09:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
intrepid_reason: Cheshire Catintrepid_reason on November 7th, 2005 08:43 pm (UTC)
My .075 cents:
Let me begin by saying that there is a huge difference between people who can't use English properly, and those individuals who won't expend the energy to do so.

That said, I would like to preface my argument with a few personal facts. I spent about 10 hours a week, while in college, working with english speaking children in elementary school who where struggling with their studies. I am also a trained ESL tutor. I have worked with adults as well as children to further their written and spoken language skills. I praise each and every one of these individuals for the achievments they have made.

I am priviledged. I am an educated individual. I have learned a foreign language. I even was lucky enough to have lived abroad where I was forced to speak it to communicate. I have struggled with proper grammer usage as well as vocabulary. I am lucky enough to have the benefit of a college education. I come from a family of "readers". My grandmother, who raised me, was a teacher and a skilled writer. My grandfather is a published historian of "people's history". I read voraciously. I consume books. I inhale them. As a child they were the only friends I could trust. I love the written word.

Conversely, I am horrible with my grammer when typing. My common errors include transposition of letters, leaving out a word, using a instead of an or even (gasp) using it's instead of its. I am perfectly deserving of being chastised if I fail to proofread my writing. I am also happy to correct my errors when I see the. I often fail when editing my own writing to note all of the errors, and appreciate others pointing them out to me. When typing in IM I am especially bad: grammer, spelling and often punctuation go out the window.

~So peck on thems that has edumication!
~Encourage and facilitate those who do not have the benefit of your knowledge.

Sometimes double standards make sense.
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)
~So peck on thems that has edumication!
~Encourage and facilitate those who do not have the benefit of your knowledge.

Sometimes double standards make sense.

That sounds like a lovely compromise for Team A and Team B today.

I'm starting to remember why I try to keep away from LJ. It can really kick in my obsessive gene and keep me focused on something when there are, alas, other things to be done...

I'd rather talk all day. La, la, la, I love the sound of my own voice. GRiN
eukarya on November 7th, 2005 09:22 pm (UTC)
I now see minor grammar and spelling mistakes as more of symptoms with troubles in our current education system these days, and the fact that the English language in itself due to a lot of confusing grammar and spelling rules that can make it easier to make these types of mistakes in comparison to some other languages and alphabets.

And sure, there are people out there who are deliberately lazy about these issues and are too eager to use l33t speak, but I doubt those types of people would give a damn what the grammar nazis think, much less change their behaviour due to rants like that.
eukarya on November 7th, 2005 10:28 pm (UTC)
I feel like I should of added
That the fact that English has all these complex grammar and spelling rules is the reason that even literate native speakers (without learning disabilities) of that language can make mistakes like the ones Stax was complaining about.

Just in case I wasn't being perfectly clear.
Master Arsonistapostle on November 7th, 2005 10:06 pm (UTC)
I just finished reading the ~ 38 post thread this generated, and I simply wish to say "Good on ya!" for stepping up.

The majority of people who I personally know who have participated in both sides of this discussion are fairly tolerant, understanding, and appreciative of the fact that not all the people in their immediate vicinity have the benefit of a standard education or a successful tutelage of the english language.

I also know from personal observation that more than a few of those same people get annoyed and reactive when they come across a grammatical error, despite their better intentions, regardless of the education, ability or (and here is my inappropriate $1.25 word for the day) loquaciousness of the suspect individual.

We all have our peeves. We all can be reactive individuals. We are all human, like it or not, and sometimes we just need to vent.

But I think that your singular point remains valid: That we have a choice to direct that energy either to a positive or negative outcome.

Negative always seems to be the easier route to take, and the positive route can be damnably hard to walk.

Now on to the part that I think might help you, and the part that might help keep the "you don't know jack" people off my back.

I taught developmentally disabled kids for 6 years, two of my direct family members are dyslexic, one cousin is autistic, and 3 others are deaf. I've had my share of experience to possibly make some helpful suggestions in the fight against the communication barrier.

Many of the DD kids couldn't focus on the project at hand long enough to follow a standard learning curriculum, some of them were physically incapable of making the proper sounds, some of them couldn't see well enough to recognize a single letter 10 inches high in front of them. My sister kept flipping numbers over and sideways in mid-calculation doing math, which drove most of her educators berserk. Getting the attention of a shrieking deaf child with their eyes closed so that you can try to show them how to write is a chore I wouldn't wish on anyone. For each and every situation and person, there are problems. For every problem, it takes several attempts at several different approaches to find something that works.

You've got to be creative. You are trying to reinvent and customize how communication is taught, so get *seriously* creative.

Color, sound, size, shape, smell, touch, and emotion all create associations in the brain that we can use to remember. Mix them up and find the ones that they enjoy and can pay attention to. If they can feel like they are making some kind of progress, it becomes a great incentive to do more and they will often help you find the key to the next hurdle.

The important thing is to keep trying. If you don't give up on them, then they can't give up on themselves. Another human being thinks it worth the time and effort to try, which makes a huge difference.

This medium doesn't allow me to make all the comments that I would like or to go into the detail that I want to, so I'll cut it to length here and call it done.

Caveat: I am human. I make mistakes. I make typos. I don't write so good no more. Samuel Clemens invented "Local Color", and I use his invention to my own nefarious purposes. I blow a raspberry in the face of the outmoded tendency to think of language as a fixed and unevolving organism. And I really don't care what you think about what I do, how I speak, or how I write. If it ain't good enough for you, don't read it.
Kburgunder on November 7th, 2005 10:58 pm (UTC)
You rule. Thank you. *hug*
VAXhackervaxhacker on November 8th, 2005 04:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you posted this. I have a tendency to let grammar and spelling mistakes get to me, although I usually keep it to myself unless I have the kind of relationship with someone where I know it's both constructive and welcome to offer a correction (e.g., with my kids who are still learning their language skills).

As someone who's struggled to learn a foreign language, and taught others to speak English, I'm all too aware of the difficulties that process entails, particularly English. I'm not sure about other European languages, but Chinese is so much more logically arranged and consistent, even with the problems it does have, than English ever will be. But I know I made a lot of stupid mistakes too. And that made me functionally illiterate (in China) for months and months, so I understand that struggle as well.

As someone who is raising two kids with learning and/or language disabilities, and with a minor LD myself (though not one that really affected my language ability--it might have even been a benefit there), I understand some of that as well.

As such, I would always give anyone struggling with those issues a heck of a lot more leeway than someone who just can't be bothered to do things right.

I run into that attitude in other areas as well, and it irks me there too. Like the time I advised a co-worker about the program he wrote (at his request) and pointed out an error which would cause potentially horrific problems for him down the road, even though it would appear to work in the trivial case he was looking at for testing. His response? "Oh, I don't care about any of those fancy rules, you just want software to be perfect, I'm happy if it works now and I won't worry about it. I don't care." And it was literally just the difference of ONE CHARACTER and knowing when to use one vs. another (@ instead of $, I think).

What really irritates me is when people make grammatical or spelling mistakes when they have presented themselves as paid professionals to provide services which involve spelling and grammar. I've lost count of the number of commercial signs I've seen with misspelled words or apostrophes before each and every letter S. Some part of that speaks to professional ethics, too.

Or the number of manuals, online documents, and office communications supposedly written by professionals who claim effective communications skills. But when those materials are so poorly written as to be nearly impossible to decipher, or when the typos, spelling or punctuation errors are so awful they completely distract from the message, it reduces the credibility of the author and I just find it annoying as well. No, I don't expect everyone to do it flawlessly, but if language usage is part of your job... I don't think that's too much to ask. If doing higher math is part of your job, I expect you to be able to do that correctly. They certainly expect me to understand all the complex rules involved with creating computer software, because that's part of my job.

Or kids in school who aren't struggling, have every capability of learning how their language works, but just laugh it off and say that proper grammar and spelling are for losers because they have more fun things to do than study. (It's the "I can't be bothered" aspect that irks me mostly here.)

I guess I've always had the attitude that once you master the way your language rules work, you then have license to break them creatively to create a certain mood, flavor, eye dialect or what have you. But just ignoring them because you don't want to bother with them doesn't feel right with me.

Again, though, ESL/LD/DD/literacy issues are another matter entirely and--as long as those individuals are doing their best to work it out and learn--I have nothing but sympathy for their struggles.

Kburgunder on November 16th, 2005 08:44 am (UTC)
I used to know 's vs. s for things like 1980s vs. 1980's. I think it's without the apostrophe? But now, both ways are so pervasive, I find that I can't keep it straight and doing a quick net search just reveals both, neither look right or wrong to me anymore ... I have to admit that, in cases like this, where conflicting uses are both pervasive, I have a hard time caring about the rule.

It is probably that "feh! people will understand what I mean" part of my reaction to 1980's vs. 1980s that enables language to be so fluid over time. I've been starting to get a 4000-year picture of language and while some words evolve beyond recognition and give us geekball linguists something to do in our spare time, it's interesting note how many words have survived almost unscathed since ancient times.

I collect magic words - i.e. words that most people of diverse languages will recognize with some effort from other languages.

Anc. Egyptian sefekh 7
Anc. Hittite siptamya 7th
Anc. Ugaritic sb't 7th
Anc. Indus sapta 7
Sanskrit sapta, sabhaa assembly, meeting (going with the sabbath definition here as the influence point)
Latin septem 7
Mod. Arabic sabaa 7
Hebrew shiva 7
Hebrew shabbot 7th day
English sabbath 7th day
English seven 7 (see Anc. Egyptian)
Spanish sabado 7th day

I would love to understand what has kept sabat/sabath sefekh/seven so firmly concrete while the root words of many English words are obscure without the help of an etymology reference. The 7/shabbot religious aspects of the number and day probably played a role, but sesame is also a magic word, and I don't know if a religious signifance for sesame seeds. I also wonder if the evolution of language makes us better able to communicate specific things or complicates things and if the trend is to evolve to simpler or more complex.