Send It Down To Copy

I don’t get grammar nazis.

Sure, I understand what motivates them to the point of jumping into comment threads and raising a ruckus. Sometimes way more of a ruckus than seems remotely reasonable. Everyone has something that gets under their skin. I, for instance, can’t stand it when people bend a line the wrong way.

What I don’t get is how the need for proper spelling seems to shut down their higher cognitive functions. The point of writing and reading is the act of communication, not some grand contest set up by transcendent grammar gods.

When I’m reading something and I come across a tipo—like that one—I barely even register it. I’m reading so I can understand what is going on in the writer’s head. I’m checking their model of the world and seeing if there is something new to add to mine.

I have the unshakable feeling that this is not the process that goes on in grammar nazi’s minds. That instead they are honor their contractual obligations to the demon they sold their soul in order to win the fifth grade spelling bee.

Moreover: grammar and spelling are fluid. Just go try and read some Chaucer. The only language that isn’t changing all the time is the language that belongs to a dead culture. Yes, words have meaning, but meaning changes over time. Just look at literally. Few things brought me more joy in the past year than watching all the copy snobs squirm when the dictionary masters added “figuratively” to the definition.

Of course, the dictionary editors had to because it is their duty to observe how language is used and set the definitions from there. That marks language as the greatest democratic laboratory there is. The people determine the shape of language, and while individuals can bend the course of that mighty river it is the collective consensus that ultimately rules the day.

That’s what gets me excited about words, not the form they get locked into for a few decades but their endless capacity to reflect the content of our hearts and minds.