Grammar Nazis and Ph.D.s

This has nothing to do with anything anyone in particular said to me recently.

It’s regarding a collection of observations, questions and statements sent my way since college.

“So do you … hear … I mean, pick up on … people’s grammar – er, grammatical – mistakes when they talk to you?”

That’s what a woman asked me at work the other day. (My response is hidden later in this blog.)

It’s been like this since college. I majored in English. I even graduated and have spent my life since writing professionally. I’ve read and studied numerous works of literature, had rhetoric, semantics and linguistics poured into my brain through a funnel of “necessity” and – this is the best part – been led to believe it all mattered in the grand scheme of things.

You know – like I was part of some elite club.

I’ve always despised this mentality. Everyone makes mistakes in grammar, both verbally and in writing. It doesn’t make them stupid, alter what they’re trying to say or make the hole in the o-zone bigger.

Why worry about it? Why offer your “expertise” unless someone asks for it?

Here’s what happens, inadvertently, when a person “corrects” a grammatical mishaps: communication is lost. Once a communicator defines himself as a “grammar Nazi,” the other communicator begins to worry more about how he’s saying something than what he’s actually saying.

Take the question from my female co-worker. She paused, stuttered and stumbled over every word trying to not sound “stupid.” It’s likely she forgot what she was trying to ask by the time she tiptoed to the end of her sentence.

Little did she know, apparently, I make mistakes in grammar, semantics and spelling all of the time. I’m human. It hardly makes me stupid, barely makes me careless and certainly reflects the Southern dialect by which I am surrounded these days. I wanted to use a double negative just to ease the tension.

I ultimately couldn’t bring myself to do that, though, and instead told her I noticed mistakes sometimes, but ignored them all the time. Then I reiterated with an added stipulation: I correct every one of my daughter’s mistakes.

Lump grammar know-it-alls with the people who think a level of education matters socially. I swear, if you could fill a tavern with people who didn’t graduate high school, people who have their bachelor’s degree, people who have their master’s degree and people who have their Ph.D., they’d eventually all sit in little groups according to how far they went in school.

Sure, it comes down to having things in common. Someone with a Ph.D. is likely going to be part of a different profession than a guy striving for his General Education Diploma. Consequently, work won’t work for a barroom conversation topic. Chances are, social activities and parenting styles will differ as well.

The most profound reason for this separation I’ve seen, though, is arrogance. The higher the education level, the more a person must have to offer the world, right? It’s as if smart people are worried they’ll get dumber by talking to someone who didn’t go to college.

(It could be – and I’m just tossing this out there – the doctor’s just a little bit concerned the high school dropout will tell him something he doesn’t know.)

Whatever the reason, I think it’s an outright shame and disservice to social maturity people can act in this manner. One of the best teachers this world has to offer is first-hand experience … and refraining from hearing (or listening to) others’ limits the parent, professional and person we might be.

Author’s note: It’s likely there are errors in this blog entry. Don’t be a jerk about it. You can’t possibly improve your social status or general esteem by flagging a mistake in something that wasn’t even proofread.

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2 Responses to Grammar Nazis and Ph.D.s

  1. A teacher says:

    I am actually proud of my “grammar Nazi” daughter, who stopped using text-speak in her communication on her phone and elsewhere because she noticed a propensity to begin using it in her school writing. I also do not berate my other daughter, who happens to be blessed with a learning disability that precludes her from having perfect spelling and grammar in her brilliant writing. I offer to edit for her without judgement. I do not judge everyday people who speak incorrectly in their everyday verbal communications. I think many of us “grammar Nazis” differentiate when it comes to our judgments. What we find irksome is when we find someone who is supposed to be learned, and in a position of leadership, who has glaring issues in their written communication that may go to the whole entire office or school. When there are huge deficiencies in spelling and grammar that are published it is highly irksome. Sorry. I’m a teacher.

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