Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016

I am what is often referred to as a “grammar Nazi”. It has occurred to me that perhaps this is not a complimentary term at all. However, since the meaning behind the name is to imply that I am a person who likes proper grammar, I choose to accept the title and wear it proudly.

As Shakespeare famously said, “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”. Although between you and me, lately, roses don’t seem to have an odor any more, sweet or otherwise. But I guess that’s another topic.

Even though I can be a stickler for proper grammar, I do commit errors of both syntax and spelling all the time—especially in the first draft of my manuscripts. Most of them are rooted out in my second draft, but my editor could tell you I really do need her services. In my defense, I will only say that I do try to get it right, but sometimes, I fail.

A few years ago, at a time when e-book authors were first coming into their own, and complaining because they were treated like “hacks” in the publishing world, I once wrote an essay, the point of which was: if you don’t want to be treated like a hack, then please, for the love of all that’s grammatically correct, be careful what you post on line. Check your spelling, check your grammar. Edit to the best of your ability.

I got very badly burned over that essay, as I recall. Apparently no one believed I was making a general observation. Several people—people whose online posts I’d never actually read, mind you—all thought I was of course talking about them. I was even temporarily booted from a group where I posted my essays because someone thought I had made a personal attack on someone else in the group—the prime definition of “flaming”.

That was several years ago, and I still don’t really understand what happened in that fracas. I don’t make personal attacks, even if I have been the recipient of same. The personal attacks that bother me are the ones I don’t understand. If I understand where the vitriol is coming from, I can generally deal with it. If I’ve screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is to immediately accept responsibility, and then apologize and move on. If I haven’t screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is apologize and move on. The willingness to offer apologies regardless of culpability might be because I am Canadian. Who knows?

But apologies don’t cost very much, and the more you use them the more familiar you become with them. That’s not to say they’re not sincere. They are. I’m always very sorry when someone has taken something I’ve said to mean something I didn’t intend. Hurt feelings are always a cause for regret, and therefore I’m always sorry for them.

I’m reminded of that incident because I’ve discovered that lately, I’ve been becoming less picky about the grammatical errors I’m encountering on line. Mostly, I suppose, because there are so many of them, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed by all I have to do in that medium to begin with. But while I don’t actually point out errors, or necessarily even talk about them specifically, my inner imp is always quick to mock them.

In response to any “thank you” I might give, I’m told, “your welcome”. My inner imp says, “my welcome what? My welcome presence? My welcome smile? It can’t be my welcome example of good grammar, because if it was, you might have said, “you’re welcome”, instead.

Sometimes, people agree with me. They do! And they let me know that by telling me, “I think so to.” My inner imp perks up. “To where? To the train station? To the airport? Or maybe, you meant, “I think so, to make things better.” But if you wanted to make things better, you might have said that you “thought so, too.”

That damned inner imp lives, I believe, just to get me in trouble. As I’ve said, I’m not that picky anymore, when it comes to conversational posts on the internet and I do keep my mouth, or fingers, shut. I can’t help but notice them, however, because that is the way I am. And I’m even coming to believe that most of these errors are caused by the authors of same having too much to do in too little time and therefore sometimes relying on spell check—just like me. 

However, these kinds of mistakes—any mistakes, really—in a book are still just as unacceptable to me today as they ever were. They still pull me out of the story, an experience that ranks right up there with bumping into an unforgiving and unexpected wall, and landing on my butt.


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