• Get Your Story Straight

It’s Time to Defund the Grammar Police

I recently had an addiction intervention, and I was both the addict and the intervenor calling out my offenses. The addiction was pedantic punctuation. For what must have been the hundredth time, I found myself replacing a comma with a semi-colon to connect two independent clauses.

Yes, the comma splice is incorrect. I hate the thing. But this was in a text. A text – the thing where most people don’t even worry about using capital letters except to YELL AT YOU.

Who cares? Who cares if, in this casual use, you stick two clauses together with a comma or a semi-colon or a slash, for that matter? This is not for publication, and it’s not going to your old English professor (who probably doesn’t care either). Worry about what you’re saying, not whether every character is in its place.  

I’ll tell you who cares. The grammar police, that’s who. And I say it’s time to defund them.

You have the right to remain incorrect

You’ve seen them, I’m sure, these guardians of language who get apoplectic if someone says “very unique.” I’m sure they’re still recovering from Merriam-Webster’s 2020 declaration that “irregardless” is an acceptable word and has been in use for over 200 years – not a recent offense of the lazy and uneducated who are systematically destroying society by ignoring the most minute rules of language.

The grammar police are ever vigilant, waiting for someone to trip over the rules. They share  images of grammar gaffes and post clever little notes about the difference between “you’re” and “your.” They’re out there watching your language, guarding against the errant “who” or “whom,” getting ready to throw the book at you – by which I mean Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, the thin little classic writing guide that has been elevated to sacred text in some minds.

Grammar and spelling do matter. I have nothing against helping people write more clearly (that’s what this blog is about, after all) and I have my own peeves, like that comma splice thing. But so many of these self-appointed grammar cops just seem performative. “I know the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and you don’t, na-na-na-na-na-na.”

I will continue to write about how you can express yourself more clearly and use the words that actually say what you want them to say. But I promise to never again be a grammar crank.

(Wait – should that be “I promise never again to be”? Oh dear – Please don’t call the cops on me.)