Saturday, October 6, 2007

Grammar Gripe

As someone who considers copy-editing one of life's little pleasures, and a strict adherence to the rules of grammar a worthy and admirable pursuit, I am dismayed by the disdain to which I and my partners in punctuation punctiliousness are subjected by the less fastidious general public. The pejorative nature of the epithets we have willingly adopted are proof enough of the position in society we hold: linguistic pariahs, bothersome prescriptivists stuck in a bygone era when people actually knew that you don't "try and" do something, you try to do it. We are referred to as grammar whores and grammar nazis, both of which comparisons demonstrate the audacity (and neologistic creativity) of those who view the steadfast insistence on linguistic exactness as a fool's errand. I take umbrage at the idea that my desire for a world with communication standards is the least bit comparable to the Germans' (former) desire for a world with racial standards.

I do, however, realize that modern society presents many situations (text messaging and chatting casually with friends, for example) in which exhibiting proper usage, punctuation, and even spelling would be looked upon as supercilious and unnecessary. To require grammatical perfection at all times would be a senseless and wholly unachievable goal. But we have a duty to pay attention to the way we use language on more formal occasions; English is a living organism, and we are its caretaker. Clarity of communication is crucial; linguistic mistakes can lose jobs, offend friends, even start wars. Language binds us together, and its abuse can rend us apart.

Of course, as long as grammar fanatics are in the minority, we will need a term of reference. I propose either "grammar guards" or "grammar guardians," as both better reflect our true role in society than the names mentioned above. It is my hope, however, that we will all be grammar guards one day, eliminating the need for the term altogether.

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