I’ve faithfully kept a diary since I was nine years old. I read a lot. I also grew up with a complicated last name that no one could spell or pronounce. Mostly because of that last one, I quickly developed a need to know how to correctly spell and pronounce words and names. This soon expanded into correct punctuation and perfect grammar. I know I’m not perfect, but always learning.
I’ve considered myself, and been called, a “Grammar Nazi” for several years. For a good while, I really was — to the point of correcting my husband’s everyday speech when he ended a sentence with a preposition or simile. (Thankfully, I quickly realised I had to nip that in the bud.) Yes, improper grammar tends to bug me. (Especially when people say things like “I’m very particular about correct pronounciation,” when it’s “pronunciation.”)
In the last couple of years, some things have come to my attention about the language — it’s always evolving. It used to bug me that Americans pronounce hummus as “HUHM-uhs,” when it’s supposed to be “HOOM-uhs.” Or that even other Grammar Nazis would say “I’m good” instead of “I’m well,” or end sentences with prepositions. However, in looking into not only the history of language, but the history and origin of words, I’ve come to realise that it’s all perfectly natural. Yes, there are still intolerable grammar errors when it comes to professional stuff, like interviews and written work. However, I think the only truly important part of grammar, when spoken in everyday language, is to make sure our children are taught what’s right.
On one hand, I know that all the grammar aspects of English class in school always came naturally and excitingly to me, and that not everyone is like that. I remember that when I was sixteen, even “the smart girl” was so confused by the things that were exciting me. I also personally know people who have never had any skills in phonics, and still struggle with it later in life. (I equate it to my absolute lack of problem-solving skills. No matter how old I get, I still have to be told what’s wrong and how to fix it.)
On the other hand, there’s no reason to be atrocious, especially on purpose. For instance, spelling according to how you speak, except in a text. Nobody wants to take extra time to have to slowly read your Facebook status. “Wez gt lotz a dem tingz n hrr.” (I have several friends who’ve done this sort of thing a lot.) However, I understand people who have no spelling skills or have dyslexia. One of my best friends has dyslexia. (And it’s SO much more than reading backward; even more than just general reading trouble.)
In learning more about languages, I’ve learned that they have evolved through things exactly like this — made-up words, mispronounced words, slang, and altered grammar. Thomas Jefferson himself was a Grammar Nazi. It annoyed him how people were mispronouncing words that came to America from other countries. “Balcony” is an Italian word pronounced “bal-KOH-nee,” but in America the accent was switched to the first syllable: “BAL-koh-nee.” It made me giggle at first, thinking about him being annoyed at the pronunciation of a word about which no one thinks twice these days.
The word “coffee” alone is a HUGE example. It’s spelled and pronounced differently in pretty much every country (caffè, kahveh, kaffee, コーヒー, et cetera), but it all has a single source (“koffie” in Dutch).
My other two favourite examples are today’s “asshole” and “douchebag.” (Excuse my “French.”) Both started out with different spellings and completely different meanings than they have today.
Yes, certain things do annoy me, whether a little or to no end. However, I’ve learned to accept so much. As long as I understand what you’re saying, I won’t correct your grammar to your face. (I’ll still do it in my head as a reaction, but it’s for me, not at you.)