Something’s making me super cranky lately. It’s all over Pinterest. It’s all over my Facebook feed. Quite frankly, it’s all perpetuated by people who should know better:
And don’t worry, I recognise the irony: I’m shaming the Grammar Shamers. Oh, and I also know I started this paragraph with a conjunction, like a badass.
Here’s a fictitious example of what makes my cranky flames roar:
Liz: Oh Beiber, your so beautiful!
Really, Jack? Do you find it necessary to publically shame someone every single time they make a mistake? Well done, you. You learned how to differentiate between two homophones! Do you feel superior just because you were able to learn and internalise a grammatical rule that you encountered in primary school? Would you like a medal?
I’m a reforming ‘Grammar Nazi’*. And I can’t lie, there are times that I have wanted a medal for knowing my English. When I started postgraduate study in Applied Linguistics, I probably believed on a subconscious level that it would give me even more reason to deserve it.
But I was so very wrong.
I discovered this beautiful world where there are distinct groups: Prescriptivism and Descriptivism.
Descriptivists describe language use. Prescriptivists prescribe language use. So, the ‘Grammar Nazi’ who tells everyone how to write and what to do, shaming people for incorrect language use, sits firmly in the prescriptivism camp. Applied linguists, however, are opposed to this behaviour because they understand that language is political and language is social.
Language evolves and changes throughout history. There are so many different dialects of English alone that it blows your mind. And it’s a power play. One particular way of speaking and writing always holds the prestige position in any society and all the rest are considered inferior. Rules are only rules because someone decided that they are.
But… and this is where it gets exciting… There really is only one purpose of language: To communicate.
That. Is. It.
I became really uncomfortable with the notion that one group of people can make another group feel unequal just because of the way they communicate. And suddenly, all this online shaming makes me sick. I’m not talking about the hilarious typos that everybody loves. I’m talking about the arrogance it takes to constantly discuss grammar as if it is something that you own and can dictate to others.
It’s really very simple: Did this person’s use of language get the message across? If the answer is yes, then be done with it and stop correcting them publically.
Yes, some uses of English are 100% incorrect. Many other points of grammar are negotiable. Even so, is it necessary to publicly correct?
As far as I’m concerned, unless you are teaching in a classroom environment, producing text for professional purposes , or privately instructing children in the home… there is no other forum in which it should be necessary to correct.
It is not okay to publically criticise someone because of their physical appearance.
It is not okay to publically attack someone because of their race or religion.
And thank God it’s finally not okay to shame because of gender or sexual preference.
So why is it admissible to publically shame the way that someone uses language? After all, language is the deeply personal expression of the inner workings of your mind. Even well intended public correction places the recipient in a position of inferiority.
This culture of Grammar Shaming is incredibly unhealthy. It smacks of, “I’m smarter than you and I’m better than you.” And I don’t know about you, but I want to confront this sick superiority complex that lurks inside of me. There is nothing wrong with using English well. But there is something wrong when we belittle another human being in order to prove our own superiority.
Your intelligence does not diminish when you allow someone else to make a mistake, without comment.
So maybe it’s time to stop posting all this crap about grammar just to prove that you’re part of some elite group of people who learned their words. It’s self-promoting, at best.
How about asking yourself before you Grammar Shame: Is this respectful? Is this loving? Is this necessary?
Because damaging someone else’s self-esteem to inflate your own is never okay.
Have you been a victim of grammar shaming? Are you guilty of doing it?
*At KiKi & Tea we do not approve of the phrase “Grammar Nazi” however it is the commonly used phrase and therefore we have used i within quotation marks.