In college, I had a secret.
Between 2 and 3am, people would tap quietly on my door.
I would open it, just a crack, looking carefully to see if anyone was watching before letting them in.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” they would say. They all looked the same. Red, glassy eyes. Hair sticking up as if it hadn’t been brushed in days. Mismatched clothes. In slippers or socks or bare feet. Papers clutched tightly in their hands. The stink of coffee and cigarette smoke wafting into my room with them.
And they all needed my help.
To edit their papers.
Because I am the Grammar Nazi.
I come by my Nazi-esque grammar habits honestly. I’m currently an English teacher. I spent two-and-a-half years as a journalism major, and was Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper. I was on Good Morning America about students using Instant Messenger and text message slang in English papers, and was quoted in the paperback edition of The World is Flat on the same subject.
But I think I would have been the Grammar Nazi even without these qualifications.
I blame my parents for this. My mother encouraged me to read as much as possible from an early age, and I devoured every book that I could get my hands on. (Although she will probably never let me live down the fact that when I was five I told her that I didn’t want to learn how to read because I didn’t want to be smart; I only wanted to be pretty.) And my father took advantage of my grammatical skills, by employing me to proofread everything that he wrote, starting when I was 12.
It’s not easy being a Grammar Nazi, especially as a child. Improper grammar has always annoyed me to an inordinate degree. And it felt only natural to correct people who spoke incorrectly.
I therefore had no friends until I learned to stop correcting everyone’s grammar.
Eventually, I found ways to keep my mouth shut when people used improper grammar. Yes, I cringe when people use the word “impact” incorrectly (it’s a noun, not a verb. Get used to it!), but I no longer tell them that they are wrong. I think less of people who say “irregardless” (it’s not a word. I don’t care if dictionary.com says it is. It isn’t.), but I stay quiet.
Writing, however, is another story altogether.
Everyone blames the internet for their poor grammar.
“Oh, it’s just Facebook. I know the difference between you’re and your. Honest.”
That’s not the internet’s fault. That’s your fault. Because you’re lazy. (Note the proper use of “your” vs. “you’re” there? Learn it, live it, love it.)
Here’s what I don’t understand: do people not realize how ignorant they look when they make those mistakes? Because I’ll tell you this right now, it’s not cute. And it doesn’t matter how attractive you are; if you screw up the your/you’re situation, I’m never going to go out with you. Nor will any other self-respecting person who understands proper grammar.
Then there’s spelling. I’m not the world’s greatest speller. Close. But not quite. I cannot claim the title of the Spelling Nazi. My students like to laugh at me about this, because I can’t spell words out loud. If I can write the words down, I can spell almost anything. But I would be eliminated from the first round of a spelling bee. If a word is more than four letters long, I have to write it down to spell it. Luckily I’m a writer, not a professional spelling bee participant.
But internet programs HAVE SPELLCHECK. Firefox, for example, underlines words that I have mistyped. And if it had that little red squiggly line under it, I’m going to fix it. Because I’m not lazy when it comes to spelling.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t hold it against you if you are a poor speller. (I do hold it against you if you confuse their/there/they’re, you’re/your, it’s/its or anything else along those lines. And if you can’t figure out apostrophes, go back to second grade.) But don’t try to tell me that it’s the internet’s fault. It’s not. It’s your fault. Own up to it. Or else do something about it and stop being so lazy.
I do have another confession to make: in speech (and occasionally in email and on Facebook), I sometimes say things conversationally that I know are wrong in formal English. And because I am the Grammar Nazi and I do that, I grant you the permission to do it too. I’m not a hypocrite about grammar. I say “anyways,” even though I know the word is “anyway.” I’ve been known to “sice” things, even though that is slang and not a real word. But conversational slang is very different from using the wrong word out of sheer laziness.
And it’s also okay to mess your grammar up for the sake of annoying people who haven’t learned to stop verbally correcting spoken grammar. I have a friend who insists that it’s only acceptable to say “I’m well,” not “I’m good,” when someone asks you how you are. (She’s wrong, but that’s another story. If the question, “how are you?” is not directly referring to the person’s health, but is a general inquiry into how his or her life is currently going, which is how the question is commonly intended, good is an acceptable answer. Trust me. I’m the Grammar Nazi.) So I always reply, “I’m good,” just to irritate her.
Because, as I have learned the hard way, no one likes a grammar corrector.