Between the Lines

Of late, I keep coming up against the language divide. On the one hand, we have the language hippies. They’re cool with any kind of expression – grammatical or not. They tend to shrug off any suggestion that there are things it is wrong to say or write. Down with Skool!

But the idea that something “means” whatever most speakers think it means, is a slippery slope. Most people don’t know the difference between unexceptional and unexceptionable, or unconscious, unconscientious, and unconscionable. So maybe we don’t really need these words. But you’re/your, I/me/mine, accept/except? Do we really want our expressive abilities to erode to a selection of emoticons?

On the other hand, we have the grammar gorillas. If they were politely improving other people’s speech or writing, they might even be useful. But not only do they tear a strip off anyone making a mistake, they are surprisingly often WRONG. Ironically, their crusades are often (mis-)guided by a lack of knowledge and feeling for language, and worse, they are completely impervious to evidence.

Give a grammar gorilla a link to the Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, or the OED, and they will fanatically persist in their errors as, obviously, the editors of said volumes cannot be trusted. They object to sentences ending in prepositions, or beginning with conjunctions. And if they think “liberal” means generous, anyone who uses the word in politics leaves them frothing at the mouth.

So where does that leave us, the middle-of-the-roaders?

Now, I confess I have a secret failing. I sometimes politely point out to people on the internet that they’re wrong. Only when people want to learn. Or when they’re being really, really nasty. I keep thinking, when they realise they are wrong themselves, this will make them a bit kinder to the people they go around “correcting”. Foolish of me, I know. People who ridicule others for making mistakes do this because they can’t accept their own. And the more vicious their attack, the deeper the fall if they admit they were mistaken or misguided. Oops.

So I should stop, right? And join the silent majority that allows obnoxious troubled individuals to jeer mercilessly at others. Or maybe I’ll go on patiently pointing out the gorillas’ own errors. Because letting their vicious intolerance go unchallenged, makes the gorillas believe they speak for us all.

I don’t know. What do you do?

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