Why Being A Grammar Elitist Ain’t All That

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A tip for dating or relationships in general: policing someone’s grammar is a dick move. Here’s why following grammar protocol doesn’t show the good form that you imagine it does.

So-called correct grammar is an appeal to upper class views of what is proper and just in our language. Except that language has never really worked that way. Do you think the railroad workers, saloon owners, or sex workers in the 1800’s spoke perfect English? Me thinketh not. It was more a mixture of broken Chinese, Spanish, French, Irish (Gaelic), German and a whole other host of languages. And yet, these are the people that built America and they got shit done without needing to resort to the queen’s english.

Proper grammar is an elitist approach to the english language. It’s a way of thinking one person is better than another because of how they speak. Grammar elitists place their self worth and others on education without ever once imagining that not everyone has access to the same level or quality of education or sometimes any education at all.

It’s also a form of racism and classism which ignores the cultural influences that can exist in local neighborhoods and regions. Speaking like an upper class WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) who is well versed in fine speak is not likely to garner you any special level of appreciation from a Tennessee mining community, the Dark Corner, Flint, Michigan or even in New York City.

Granted, it’s a fictional character but Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly spoke about being immortalized saying, “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of a son of a bitch or another.” It’s not at all proper english but it’s a wonderful quote (one of my favorites I might add) which easily exhibits wisdom. Everyone who is idolized has a darker side that often gets swept away by the need for a hero. Proper word choice isn’t necessarily a display of intelligence, but rather an example of someone following rules just for the sake of it.

The important thing is that we try and understand what the other person is saying and not how they are saying it. If someone from my home town told me “I found bout 5 five pounds of shroons the other day over on Kuhlman Hill.” I’m not about to correct them and say “you mean to say mushrooms” because I would be a colossal prick and their meaning is easily obtained.

Focusing too intently on grammar can also hide our chosen identity when we develop a stalwart adherence to pronoun choice such as him and her as opposed to zir and ze or they. We disrespect people and who they are over word choice.

The final reason that grammar (and word choice) doesn’t matter is that those whose job it is to keep us abreast of the english language aren’t at all concerned about what is proper. This very month Merriam-Webster introduced the words “safe space” and “microaggression” to the dictionary. Since that will piss conservatives off to no end they might be pleased to know that “riding shotgun” is now included as well. The point of cataloging language isn’t about proper usage, but about documenting what is happening. That word that you despise if it persists will one day make it into the dictionary. The kicker is, it was a real word long before that happened.

So the next time you decide to chide someone for not living up to your language standards perhaps you should critically examine those expectations and their privileged origins.

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