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December 12, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar on the Internet. Also Part 2 and Part 3.
posted by divabat (130 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
UPDATE: If there is something you disagree with, before you comment about it, please do the following:

read this and this; and
read the comments that have already been postedIf you don’t have time to do all that reading, that means you also don’t have time to compose a relevant and informed comment, so please wait until you do. Cheers.


That is one of the most smug and passive-aggressive sounding things I have ever read on the Internet. A good example of privilege-theorist privilege!
posted by thelonius at 10:26 AM on December 12, 2012 [38 favorites]


That was one of the goodest discussions I've read of this issue that I've been priveleged to read on this.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:39 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this stuff you didn't like makes more sense in the context of the author's blog as conversation; it is indeed an update as she added 2 additional posts, and has gone back and forth extensively with several commenters. Didn't really bother me.

As to the meat of it, I agree whole-heartedly. Attacking someone's spelling and grammar is puerile elitist bullshit.
posted by Mister_A at 10:39 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there a daily updated list somewhere that tells me who I can make fun of?
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's hard standing up for underdogs that rarely get the time of day. If she came across rudely I don't think it detracts from the fact this is an issue that rarely gets attention and I think is a worthy cause. But then I am dyslexic and non-neurotypical and have had my self esteem obliterated by the school system and my family at a young age so, I just, deeply thank her for writing this even if it's imperfect or needs improvement.
posted by xarnop at 10:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wonderful! She puts her finger right on a problem that has long made me uncomfortable, but I couldn't quite work out why.

I always chalked it up to "Grammar elitists are just bullies that use spelling instead of fists." But I guess it's possible for both things to be true.
posted by ErikaB at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dr. Twist, you can make fun of anyone you want. Whether or not you want to, based on the impression it gives other people, is entirely up to you.
posted by ErikaB at 10:44 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would like to add that when people stand over me insulting me for being confused I start having panick symptoms and literally letters start looking all scrambled. Same with math. I used to have a boss that would stand over me while I worked the cash register (because I was indeed error prone and it wasn't a goot position for me) and the second I could feel him standing their my brain would go all fuzzy and I could barely remember my own name..

My father was a special ed student and got screamed at in his abusive/neglectfuil family a lot. Who'se abuse I think was at the heart of why his brain didn't develop very well to begin with. Speaking of epigenetics
posted by xarnop at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure she was tired of seeing the same things posted again and again, yeah, which is, I guess, understandable.

I stay away from correcting people all the time because it makes me sound like a dick, which is reason enough for me.
posted by thelonius at 10:46 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck that. I had to learn English as a second language in kindergarten, and until I did, I got picked on like crazy by other kids over it. So I earned my right to criticize native speakers of English for their laziness and ignorance. Especially the ones who complain loudest about immigrants not knowing English like "real Americans." At the very least, if you're going to bitch about some persecuted minority's poor language skills, you'd better be ready to get as good as you give.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


I have fine grammar and can spell well but I'm a shit typist. So make sure you're flaming me for the right reason sat least.
posted by GuyZero at 10:49 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


That said, in practice, I don't think I've ever corrected anyone for a specific error. I do grumble in general terms from time to time about the travesty that is modern American English usage.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2012


saulgoodman: you're making massive assumptions about who is a "native English speaker" (information not easily gleaned solely from posts on the Internet) and are also forgetting factors of class, dis/ability, typing skills (which can be very distinct from general language skills).

signed, someone whose status as non/native English speaker is questionable
posted by divabat at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Apparently at least 75% of the students, faculty, and staff who write emails to tech support at our university are either ESL or suffering from a disability of some kind.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


Fuck that. I had to learn English as a second language in kindergarten, and until I did, I got picked on like crazy by other kids over it. So I earned my right to criticize native speakers of English for their laziness and ignorance.

That anyone chooses to exercise this perceived right says a whole lot more about them than the person or people they find it necessary to criticize (and to me makes it clear that they're a long way from being a good man).
posted by ambient2 at 10:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


We are now in a very short countdown until the mass adoption of privilege concern as the new prop of the right wing hack comedian, replacing political correctness. Rush Limbaugh will be praising himself for his privilege within 18 months, probably a lot less.
posted by COBRA! at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


I am pretty sure I am still allowed to make fun of my neurotypical non-learning disabled native english speaking double PhD coworker who asked me if "of" was spelled o-f or o-v-e.
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on December 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


I don't know about correcting people's grammar or spelling so much, but it is important to be able to criticize people's language use sometimes. In terms of semantics, in particular. When language that represents an abstract concept gets too corrupted by misuse, our cultural store of ideas loses something valuable. We do need some level of language policing at the cultural level or we potentially risk losing some of our shared cultural wealth.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:57 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look, she's just saying that with great language skill comes great responsibility.
posted by Mister_A at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


There's a clothing boutique in a very trendy/gentrified part of Chicago called "Personal Privilege" and I haven't yet decided if they're aware of how their name sounds.
posted by theodolite at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2012


Is there a daily updated list somewhere that tells me who I can make fun of?

WHO YOU CAN MAKE FUN OF (UPDATED 12/12/12)

1. Anyone you want, as long as you're okay with being a jerk
posted by 23skidoo at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I understand the frustration behind not having innate literacy skills. My stepson is 12 and mildly dyslexic among other things. We have come to terms with the fact that he will never be able to spell properly on his own, but that he is very good at using grammar and spell check when he's able to do work on the computer. There are plenty of tools available to shore up flagging literacy skills. If you lack the motivation or the curiosity to use them, I'm not going to point it out or harass you, but I will wonder about your priorities. Even that sounds bitchy, but I stand by it.
posted by PuppyCat at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know what would fix self-appointed grammar snobs? Getting jobs as actual editors. That would clear up the urge to correct other people's grammar for free like nothing else.

I am an editor and you have to pay me for that shit.
posted by caryatid at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2012 [48 favorites]


I think there are very valid criticisms that can be made of spoken and written language, for instance the proliferation and mindless parroting of jargon and buzzwords that hinders clear business communications and leads to a poverty of thought and poverty of ideas.

That's different, though.
posted by Mister_A at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you hate the word "privilege," then imagine exercising compassion and restraint instead of vitriol when you come across bad grammar from a person you know nothing about. I have a friend who was in a very serious car accident over a year ago and suffered severe brain trauma. She posts constantly on Facebook (probably partially because she is mostly homebound because of her disabilities) and has atrocious grammar, to the point it is sometimes hard to even understand what her point is. It would be so easy for someone who doesn't know her situation to assume she is an idiot and to make fun of her, but really she is someone struggling valiantly with near catastrophic injuries, both mental and physical. As I said, a dollop of compassion and restraint in such situations can mean quite a lot.
posted by Falconetti at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


That anyone chooses to exercise this perceived right says a whole lot more about them than the person or people they find it necessary to criticize (and to me makes it clear that they're a long way from being a good man).

So apparently my sly ironic hyperbole has again been mistaken for dead-sincere assholery. Sorry about any confusion, but please believe me, I don't go around indiscriminately judging and criticizing people's language use (except when they deserve it).

But to be fair, I do know plenty of perfectly capable, privileged native speakers who pay horribly little attention to their own weak grasp of the English language while gleefully bashing ESL folks or non-English speaking immigrants.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am an editor and I would about pay money to watch grammar snobs get hit in the face with a shovel and fed to animals.
posted by ambient2 at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2012 [17 favorites]


etc.I have a hard time seeing their and there. and you're and your. I have a hard time seeing these errors even when I proofread myself. I don't think these kinds of spelling errors actually make it difficult for people to understand my meaning (though more likely to be suspicious of my intellect or accuracy of my statements). The fact that I'm convoluded however does tend to genuinely impeded conversations.

I think it's valid to wonder what someone's priorities are, but pressuming that proper grammar is more important that getting food, having fun, spending time with family, making music, surviving grinding poverty or life with disabilities, is a bit silly.

And really when people are too disabled to earn a living wage-- it's a bit craptastic to shit on people for not thinking meeting grammar standards should be a requirement for getting to have a voice in the community.
posted by xarnop at 11:07 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My advice to people looking to write more clearly: Use fewer words.
posted by Mister_A at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't know about correcting people's grammar or spelling so much, but it is important to be able to criticize people's language use sometimes. In terms of semantics, in particular. When language that represents an abstract concept gets too corrupted by misuse, our cultural store of ideas loses something valuable. We do need some level of language policing at the cultural level or we potentially risk losing some of our shared cultural wealth.

Do you have any examples? Are you talking about people making new verbs out of nouns or whatever or the increasing disuse of the subjunctive in French or something along those lines? Or are you talking about if the government bans the word "freedom" we will no longer be able to conceptualize it? Or something else?
posted by Falconetti at 11:12 AM on December 12, 2012


Mister_A- I would rather share my voice than silence myself until I meet your standards. Trust me, I've been given all sorts of advice of this nature. It doesn't make it easier for me to comply with it. I have rarely ever had the ability to be heard and it is hard for me to reign in what I want tosay as much as people like you might want. I understand people might avoid reading my internet writings because of it, which is totally fine, skip my comments.

But I refuse to listen to the voices in the world that tell me I am not good enough to be heard as I am. Not has to read my words,but in whatever spaces that will have me I will write what I am trying to say to the best of my ability. I prefer that to silence though others might prefer me silent until I can conform.
posted by xarnop at 11:16 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that I want to defend every typo flame in the universe, but as a broader principle this strikes me as a pretty good example of how supposedly lefty talk of "elitism" usually plays straight into the hand of the right and gives way too much slack to (or even becomes a form of) knee-jerk anti-intellectualism. We should care about good writing, and we should have standards for it, because good writing is good thinking. (And yes, again, I acknowledge that grammar flaming is not coextensive with caring about good writing; but it does have something to do with it. Literacy is not less important or more relative just because it is a privilege.)
posted by RogerB at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


I just thought it was a mix of attention-seeking and compensation for low self-esteem.
posted by discopolo at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Use fewer words.

Well at least you didn't say "less words." I wouldn't call you out on it if you had, but it would grate.

Do you have any examples? Are you talking about people making new verbs out of nouns or whatever or the increasing disuse of the subjunctive in French or something along those lines? Or are you talking about if the government bans the word "freedom" we will no longer be able to conceptualize it? Or something else?

More like the latter, except specifically where very precise, nuanced abstract concepts are concerned. Examples might include things like the dialectic of the political "Left" and the political "Right," or specialized concepts emerging from certain fields of study. Some words for all practical purposes are the ideas they represent, so if they fall into too frequent misuse or neglect, I think there's a risk the ideas themselves aren't readily accessible or useful to the culture anymore (the ideas themselves don't actually disappear, but without a useful way of making an idea into a tool people can use, the culture suffers). But this is veering off topic.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You misunderstand me, xarnop. I supervise a small group of writers. I mentor aspiring elementary and middle school writers. The key to effective writing is clarity, not punctuation or spelling. When I am asked how to improve clarity in writing, this is the advice I give. It seemed on topic because the central importance of clarity is one of the key points in the article.

My comment was not directed at you, it just happened to be directly below yours. Your writing is fine.
posted by Mister_A at 11:22 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My advice to people looking to write more clearly: Use fewer words.

I, myself, have, as it happens, also long been of the opinion that the sheer number or, one may say, quantity of lexical elements employed in any attempt at written communication that aspires to convey its message as clearly, perspicuously and lucidly as could well be imagined in this or, indeed, in any other possible world is certainly the right, royal and true road to the most desirable forms of expressing one's meanings in written form.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I agree that accurate thinking is important. But if you research brain development and the social and environmental factors that affect it- it doesn't make a lot of sense to bully people for having lower intellect. It DOES make sense to want to point out that accuracy and truth are important and that some people are factually wrong in their understanding. Which in some situations can cause a lot of harm in the world if misunderstandings and false information are not corrected. That doesn't necessarily need to mean shaming someone for being factually wrong, but it is important to establish accurate truth.

(HAHAHA thanks for clarifying mister_A--- I tend to hear every criticism in the world as being directed at me, but I've lived with pretty constanct criticism-- my genuine apologies for my misunderstanding and sensitivity)
posted by xarnop at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the author forgets that one reason people in some communities call other people out on bad spelling/grammar is because the person being corrected is aware of the correct way to spell or write the sentence, and choose to write in chatspeak because they think it's cool or trendy. Those people might not be aware that their style of writing makes them appear incompetent.
posted by LSK at 11:26 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well at least you didn't say "less words." I wouldn't call you out on it if you had, but it would grate.

Why would it grate? Like so many prescriptivist rules, the less/fewer distinction is an 18th century invention. Alfred the Great, the first king of England, used the phrase "with less words or with more" in AD 888. How more authentically English can you get?
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


My other bit of advice: Eschew ostentatious sesquipedalianism!
posted by Mister_A at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


People shouldn't be nasty to each other; this covers being nasty about grammar, usage, and spelling. I think the trend of identifying particular ways of being nasty, and then arguing that they are off-limits for political / social-justice reasons, is corrosive.

It's not cool to be nasty to someone who never had the resources to develop a good command of standard English. It's also not cool to be nasty to someone who does have those resources.

So yeah I agree with this post a lot; I only disagree with the details of its framing -- that this particular sort of nastiness is an imposition by the more privileged on the less privileged, and wrong for that reason. I even agree that it is especially wrong to condemn someone for failing to do something they have little chance to do.

But I get the sense that this is part of an effort, not completely intentional but quite real, to create like a table of disapproved vs. approved nastiness. So that it's wrong to be cruel to someone when that's an expression of some identified "privilege" -- but it's A-OK otherwise. This is a dangerous attitude whose existence I would love to dismiss as impossible, but I see it in action from time to time, even here on Mefi. For example, I got into a Twitter argument with a Mefite over the "requireshate" science fiction blogger. My position was that it wasn't unreasonable to describe the blogger as a "rabid animal" because of the prodigious quantities of bile she spews everywhere (cf. bottom of this comment); my correspondent thought that none of this nastiness and cruelty could match up to the historically weighted offense of comparing a woman to an animal.
posted by grobstein at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's been interesting to confront my prejudices on this front as I've met some thoroughly wonderful people who have serious problems with spelling / writing. I still tend to filter for skills there, but I now watch my blanket judgments when I don't see it.

I'm also generally down with the exercise of thinking about what life would be like if something easy for you was difficult for someone else. I think that's the heart of the concept of "privilege", and it would do the world good to think more about it.

Not sure I think we're suffering from elitism as a society, though. I feel like it's this weird middle-ball of having petty standards for respectability without deep appreciation for significance and accomplishment. YMMV, maybe it's a focus illusion on my part.
We do need some level of language policing at the cultural level or we potentially risk losing some of our shared cultural wealth.
Do you have any examples?


I could share one. I don't think "privilege" is a good word for reasons I outline here. I don't bring this up to be pedantic, I think the word may make communicating a useful underlying concept more difficult because of other connotations it may have.
posted by weston at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


This seems appropriate.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:29 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is something that I really, really, really love about MetaFilter, the thing that made it stand out from all the other web communities when I stumbled on it as a lurker years ago:

MetaFilter completely lacks the "grammar nazi" culture that infects the rest of the Internet. Aside from jokes, I don't think I've ever seen one user correct or criticize another here on spelling or grammar (well, that's probably looking back with rose-colored glasses but certainly they're very few and far between).

It was incredibly refreshing to find a place without that sad, pathetic, intellectually masturbatory habit and I hope it stays out of here forever.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:33 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hang on. Does this mean I can bring up "privilige" the next time someone starts bitching about my proudly incorrect use of "begs the question"?

Finally, finally I get this stuff! Thanks, guys!
posted by Jimbob at 11:33 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Check yourself before you dreck yourself.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:33 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


xarnop: Your writing is just fine. But then, I would guess you aren't actively posting to FB about how all those damn Mexicans/Blacks/Etc. need to learn how to speak good English or something that has to be punctuated with at least a half dozen exclamation points should happen to them. If you were doing that, I might give you some crap about it if you made a grammatical slip. Is that my evil privilege at work? As an ESL learner myself?

What is the source of the privilege in this case though? Being a native speaker? Being good at grammar? Getting an education? What? Are we assuming innate language abilities here that are genetically determined and those are the source of privilege--is that it?

I think the article's points are too general. Not everyone criticizing someone else's language use is doing so from a place of privilege, unless you count merely having the necessary skills to criticize as a kind of privilege--in which case, isn't any kind of teaching an expression of privilege?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure I am still allowed to make fun of my neurotypical non-learning disabled native english speaking double PhD coworker who asked me if "of" was spelled o-f or o-v-e.

Check your privilege edu scum.
posted by clarknova at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2012


Hang on. Does this mean I can bring up "privilige" the next time someone starts bitching about my proudly incorrect use of "begs the question"?

No.
posted by GuyZero at 11:39 AM on December 12, 2012


Alfred the Great, the first king of England, used the phrase "with less words or with more" in AD 888.

Alfred, however had the excuse of pretty much constantly fighting vikings. That will distract anyone. Sadly, despite his effort, English writing continued to slide (possibly due to vikings, well, and Normans, who were vikings with French accents). Eventually, things came to a head with Chaucer. Everyone reading The Canterbury Tales was forced to say "Jesus Christ! We need grammar!" And thus the English Wars of the Grammar began.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:39 AM on December 12, 2012 [21 favorites]


Jimbob, I think you actually ARE begging the question in that comment, no? Well played, sir or madam. Well played.
posted by Mister_A at 11:40 AM on December 12, 2012


I reserve the right to point and laugh at the people who send me error-riddled manuscripts, ostensibly in the belief that I will want to pay them money for their writing. Even the non-native English speakers; if you're submitting to an English-language 'zine, then either get yourself a good translator or make sure you've got the chops to compose in that language. I wouldn't try to write a story with my rudimentary Spanish. (Or if I did, I wouldn't try to sell it.)

However, I'm dealing with people who have voluntarily submitted their writing to me specifically for my judgment and analysis, which is a very different thing from playing Gotcha Comma during a completely unrelated Internet Argument.
posted by Scattercat at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure I am still allowed to make fun of my neurotypical non-learning disabled native english speaking double PhD coworker who asked me if "of" was spelled o-f or o-v-e.

Were they talking about the preposition or the glove?
posted by aught at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Use fewer words.

Well at least you didn't say "less words."


I've been trying to use lesser words myself.
posted by aught at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2012


Why would it grate?

Because it sounds awful to my ear (and also possibly because it violates a cultural norm when there's no good or useful reason to). The flow of language is a good enough reason for me to personally dislike a particular construction. But then, I don't write grammar books and am not an authority. Which is why I said I wouldn't have called it out, but it would have grated. We're allowed to have personal preferences aren't we?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2012


Can we still agree to loathe people who use the term "masterbation"? Or do I have completely reinvent my worldview AGAIN?
posted by DWRoelands at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2012


I've been trying to use lesser words myself.

And I—
I chose the word less written with,
And that has made all the frabulence.
posted by cortex at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


DWR, I would assume the person in question is talking about advanced, graduate level masturbation - masterbation. That shit is mad cromulent, so I advise you to step off.
posted by Mister_A at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I do say: “Employers will judge cover letters not just on content, but on form. Even if you have strong work skills, some employers won’t bother to read a résumé if they see non-standard grammar in the cover letter. Let’s look at a few examples of common structures that you will hear and see often, but that can cause you problems if you use them in formal writing.”

Really? Because I was skimming halfway through that. Why not just say "Put the following into Standard (or whatevs) English?"
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:50 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as spelling goes, I have a minor visual issue that means I can't see the entire line as I type. If I don't proofread very carefully, I am apt to include spelling errors. Mostly, MeFites nicely ignore my incapacity. Occasionally, however, I am funny. I might feel aggrieved, I suppose, if I had been struggling with this my entire life, so you might tread gently around others....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2012


Let me join the chorus of MeFi editors: I'm only going to bother to correct your grammar/spelling/punctuation if you're paying me for it or you've asked me to. Online comments? Email? IMs? Texts? Who gives a damn?
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've been trying to use lesser words myself.

I know you're being ironic, but this isn't bad advice. High-sounding words tend to hide nonsense.

One of Coleridge's teachers hated the precious vocabulary of Dryden, Pope, and the rest. When he found Pierian Springs and muses in his students' verse, he made them rewrite it until all the preciosities were gone.

I think it was Coleridge, and not his teacher, who turned this line of Johnson's: "Let Observation, with extensive View,/Survey Mankind from China to Peru ... " into this: "Let observation, with extensive observation, observe mankind extensively."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fiercecupcake, I will offer three favorites if you proof my screenplay.*





*Screenplay currently lives on a bunch of index cards
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who gives a damn?

You'd be surprised.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:10 PM on December 12, 2012


But then, I would guess you aren't actively posting to FB about how all those damn Mexicans/Blacks/Etc. need to learn how to speak good English or something that has to be punctuated with at least a half dozen exclamation points should happen to them. If you were doing that, I might give you some crap about it if you made a grammatical slip. Is that my evil privilege at work? As an ESL learner myself?

I make no apologies for exercising my evil privilege in those instances. I went to high school with a bunch of people who seem to have forgotten every single bit of spelling, grammar, and punctuation we ever learned, writing halfway illiterate screeds about "THIS IS AMERICA, SPEAK ENGLISH". (My response is often "You first!)

So yes, I will mock them at every opportunity, because god damn.

I have some friends who are ESL learners, and I do correct their grammar, but gently, in the fashion my friends in Germany did for me when I botched it. A quiet mention, then continue the conversation. Not all grammar corrections are meant to be mean spirited.
posted by MissySedai at 12:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


One problem is that the writing of someone who struggles with literacy looks the same as someone who does not struggle with literacy, but who just can't be bothered to find a shift key and/or punctuation marks. The first is totally understandable, the latter is somewhat annoying - because non-standard writing is harder to read for a lot of people. I find it very difficult to parse writing without lots of periods, for example -- or dashes, I like my dashes. And capitalization helps me find the beginning of the next sentence.

But I usually respond by just not reading what I find difficult to read due to lack of punctuation, unless there is another compelling reason.

As for metafilter: I don't know what the level of grammar-correction is compared to other sites, but I know that I first became a reader because it was the discussion blog I had come across where most people did use complete sentences and correct punctuation, as opposed to sentence fragments. This made it much easier to understand the discussions.
posted by jb at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


This was an interesting and insightful series of posts that is giving me a lot to think about. I definitely tend to think less of people who make grammar/spelling/usage errors (or, I guess I should really say "errors"). It's useful to think about what values that kind of judgement is enforcing.
posted by medusa at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2012


Privilege privilege Privilege privilege privilege privilege Privilege privilege.
posted by gwint at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The linked articles are excellent; I always approach such things with dread in my heart, but I don't think she said a single thing that made me shake my head in sorrow. It's always especially pleasing to see a recovering prescriptivist who's achieved so clear a view. (She even enthusiastically accepts "their" for "his/her"!)

> MetaFilter completely lacks the "grammar nazi" culture that infects the rest of the Internet. Aside from jokes, I don't think I've ever seen one user correct or criticize another here on spelling or grammar

Heh. You should have seen the place a decade ago. Like cleaning the Augean stables, it was. But yes, descriptivism and feminism are two topics MetaFilter now Does (Pretty Darn) Well.
posted by languagehat at 12:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I have some friends who are ESL learners, and I do correct their grammar, but gently, in the fashion my friends in Germany did for me when I botched it.

I hope your friends in Germany were correcting your German. I had a German friend who would "correct" my English, which let me tell you is hard to take.
posted by languagehat at 12:33 PM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think the community here tends to value learning and communication. Proper grammer and clear sentences (and interesting well thought out content) is more enjoyable and I think people should value these things if they like communicating and being heard. I think it's fine to value these things, and even to struggle with reading writing that is not well written. I.e. if we're going to say some people struggle with writing well, can't it be just as fair to say some people struggle with reading poorly written and difficult to understand content?

I think both are valid, which is why people who want to be heard and have dialogue with others would better serve themselves and their ideas by making them easy for others to digest, to the best of their ability. I just don't think people who struggle with it need to be shamed or deliberately ignored (any more than might be necessary due to not being able to understand them)

I guess I'll put it another way, some people have behaivor problems where they are really awkward socialy. I do NOT believe they deserved to be shamed and I think communities should try to be inclusive. But there are individuals who have a strong reaction of fear to oddball or rude seeming behavior and those people's feelings matter too. Meaning I understand avoidance of the disabled or poorly funcitoning people, who can be difficult to interact with or understand for many different reasons (and sometimes truly dangerous or harmful to people around them without meaning to be).

I feel like any movement designed to bring awareness and inclusion to the experience of being disabled or differently funcitoning or underprivaledged should also have room to validate the experience of how difficult it can be to integrate some kinds of disabilities for people who try to put forth effort to accomodate them.

Often their are pretty valid reasons why people avoid differently funcitoning people, and validating their needs can make efforts at integration more healthy for everyone.
posted by xarnop at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Apparently at least 75% of the students, faculty, and staff who write emails to tech support at our university are either ESL or suffering from a disability of some kind.

Neglecting the other possibilities makes you part of the problem.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2012


Teachers, professional writers (and people who profess that they WANT to be professional writers) and editors, and people who mock others' spelling, or grammar for whatever reason...if they have typos, or grammatical errors on FB, twitter or comment sections, they get a facepalm. Everyone else gets a pass.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had a German friend who would "correct" my English, which let me tell you is hard to take.

This is a slapping offense tbh.
posted by elizardbits at 12:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Online comments? Email? IMs? Texts? Who gives a damn?

You'd be surprised.


No, I would not. I make mistakes too, all the time. The first rule of editing is that you can't edit your own stuff. In these casual forms of communication, I don't care.

While I never correct my correspondents in email, IMs, or texts, as soon as anyone finds out I am an editor, they twit me about MY errors even though I have been ignoring theirs all along. It's annoying as hell.

Online comments are a special case. When I am arguing with an otherwise literate person who uses a word incorrectly (as in, way wrong, like completely off-definition) in an attempt to look erudite, you bet I am going to jump on that.
posted by caryatid at 12:44 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I make an effort to communicate clearly. I expect to be judged on those efforts. But communicating clearly is not just about grammar and spelling: thus cat macros.

Language is a tool. People are all over the spectrum in terms of mastering that tool. It's one thing to take them where they are, it's another to excuse sloppiness and incoherence out of the soft bigotry of low expectations.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


Language is a tool. People are all over the spectrum in terms of mastering that tool. It's one thing to take them where they are, it's another to excuse sloppiness and incoherence out of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The best thing about Metafilter is, if I wait a couple minutes, someone will express what I'm thinking better than I could have done myself.
posted by rifflesby at 12:54 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Finally, somebody to smack down all those annoying language snobs.

Next: can we please address this issue of checking one's musical skills privilege? Taylor Swift was not given the same advanced training as Yo-Yo Ma or Marie Callas and we need to acknowledge where she's come from instead of beating her down because of her lack of advantages.

Also, I would like the IOC to stop being so exclusive and snobby and let me compete in the Olympics. It is not my fault my parents didn't encourage athletics from a very young age and I resent the Athletic Ivory Tower's inability to recognize my one-minute 100m run is very good for me and is represents a facet of my unique childhood experiences and background.
posted by schroedinger at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


caryatid: No, I would not. I make mistakes too, all the time. The first rule of editing is that you can't edit your own stuff. In these casual forms of communication, I don't care.

While I never correct my correspondents in email, IMs, or texts, as soon as anyone finds out I am an editor, they twit me about MY errors even though I have been ignoring theirs all along. It's annoying as hell.


This reminds me of the corresponding phenomenon: people who are anxious about writing you for fear you're going to correct or make fun of them. Especially suitors. Everyone I've dated seriously has said they were afraid of emailing me in the beginning because I'm an editor. And the truth? I appreciate good grammar in my partners, but I'm not going to kick you to the curb because of some usage error.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2012


I'm not sure this discussion is quite commensurate with the article. While we're all congratulating ourselves on not nitpicking about minor typos and stylistic slips, the article is talking about how one might respond to a comment like this: "hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter."

Now, no one who writes like that is going to feel welcome on Metafilter unless they have a super thick hide. They wouldn't get openly mocked for writing in that way, but they'd be made to feel, quite clearly, that they weren't participating according to acceptable community norms. And it's not trivially easy to say how one goes about addressing that. It's not simply a matter of everyone agreeing not to be an asshole about minor grammar errors.
posted by yoink at 1:08 PM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


MetaFilter completely lacks the "grammar nazi" culture that infects the rest of the Internet.

Puh-LEEEZE. We just got that edit window for fixing typos. There's still a very strong "b-b-b-b-but mistakes have to be corrected!" vibe that permeates this place. If we completely lacked any vestiges of grammar nazi culture, we'd be able to shrug off typos better.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:08 PM on December 12, 2012


I hope your friends in Germany were correcting your German.

Hah, yes! My vocabulary was fine, but my grammar was shaky, and those damned definite articles still occasionally trip me up! My bestie there taught me my favorite trick ever - sort of swallow the article, and hardly anyone will notice.

I had a German friend who would "correct" my English, which let me tell you is hard to take.

I had to take English at Gymnasium, and my English teacher "corrected" my English all the time. And by "corrected", I mean she would pop the Britishisms at me. If I said (or wrote) "elevator", I got the red pen treatment with "lift", "truck" was "lorry", and so on, and if the Brits stuck a "u" in a word and I didn't, I heard all about that, too. She even called me functionally illiterate! After about a month of it, I sort of had a gasket malfunction and told her "Lady, I earned a 5 on my AP English exam, that's the highest mark you can get, it means I'm quite proficient in my mother tongue. I'm already learning German and French here, I'm not going to pick up the Queen's damned English just because you don't understand how we speak in the Colonies. Knock it off!"

(The ten minutes in the Headmaster's office immediately following were pretty hilarious. He made a good show of being stern with me until she left, then rolled his eyes, muttered something about her prissiness, and made me promise to pretend that I had been thoroughly chastened when I went back to class.)
posted by MissySedai at 1:12 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Grammars seem to be appropriate to context: chatroom and text-box grammars are new, and sound odd to me. The question to ask is: do they convey with accuracy....?

I get a hitch in my eyeball when I see certain uses for fewer and less, or when unique is modified. Mostly this happens when the usage renders my inference ambiguous. This isn't often. Homonyms are not usually a problem for me, because English is ornagoidized in suh ch a way that meneng is easy to infer even with bad spellng.

Formal writing is different. Certain conventions are expected, and when you deviate from them you draw attention to the deviation. Skilled writers can use this to good effect. Standard forms help to remove ambiguity from the writing. Informal writing sometimes benefits from emoticons or other chatroom abbreviations. When you write for publication you are not available to explain your ambiguities, so you need to be clear. This is not as easy as it may seem.

Prescriptivists have a tendency, it seems, to forget that English (and maybe most languages) are in a constant flux. They may take standard usage a bit too seriously. But I have to stand with them in some respects. Except in technical documents, I don't want to work all that hard to understand what someone is trying to say to me. This doesn't mean that I shouldn't have to work out the implications of something that's said, just that I don't want to have to draw a bunch of lines trying to figure out which pronouns go to which nouns, and try to decide if there really is a predicate somewhere in there.

Correcting grammar and spelling in forums such as this, though, is the tool of the bully. It may be that the bully simply is bothered by something he read, and won't be inconvenienced by having to try and figure it out before he lashes out. Same results. In that vein, it's sort of offputting to see somone called for sounding pompous. Tone is among the hardest things to control in writing. Bad logic or the misuse of a technical term is a legitimate target. Even then arguments via forums are dependant on the members for their usefulness: are you trying to win, or working with one another to find out something? Mostly the members should make their point, and maybe respond to clarify a misunderstanding, then just let the others have their say.

Anyhow, that's my take. When I see the flames rising in threads I seldom try to connect the dots between posters. When I see words in a single sentence running to the dozens I sometimes just let my eye slide down the page to something easier to read. Many writers use long sentences effectively, most don't. But I don't see my role in forums as the writing instructor. I have enough problems with my own run-on sentences. I hate to murder my precious little darlings after spending all that emotion getting them to fall off my fingers and into the keyboard. Most times I do it, though they protest, and I can hear them screaming in my dreams.
posted by mule98J at 1:12 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: Germans correcting your English, I once tried to correct an AV Club commenter who pluralized "gendarme" as "gens d'armes" rather than "gendarmes" (Possibly the other way around). He turned out to be French. Since then, I haven't tried to correct anyone's French or Spanish.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we completely lacked any vestiges of grammar nazi culture, we'd be able to shrug off typos better.

Well, there's a difference between a Grammar Nazi and a Grammer Flagellant. My feeling is we've got more of the latter than the former around here, and the edit window's introduction has in fact led as hoped to a huge falloff in "please fix this typo" emails; whatever the external cause of the typo anxiety around here, it seems to manifest more in self-judgement than anything.

Which is not to say there's no nattering prescription to be found, but at least it's pretty minimal and as lhat notes a lot less prevalent than it once was.
posted by cortex at 1:15 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


people who are anxious about writing you for fear you're going to correct or make fun of them.

I haven't had that problem (that I know of). With me, more often it's, "Ooh, you're an editor. I better watch what I say!" As though I would be so rude as to correct people in conversation. I used to get the same thing when I was a reporter, as though my job made me some kind of universal gossip.

This is why editors hate grammar police (and reporters sneer at bloggers); the layman cannot tell the difference, and they attribute the sins of the amateur to the professional.
posted by caryatid at 1:15 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People’s Grammar

That's quite a career change, from the proofreader's cell to the hurt locker.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taylor Swift was not given the same advanced training as Yo-Yo Ma or Marie Callas and we need to acknowledge where she's come from instead of beating her down because of her lack of advantages.

No. No we don't.
posted by clarknova at 1:31 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


People here do seem to try to put a little thought and effort into what they're writing. That elevates the community standards a bit over some places, but it's not intrinsically exclusive. And I don't see much "grammar Nazi'ing"; other kinds of pedantry maybe. Almost anyone can use language clearly and coherently if they're willing to slow down and put some effort into it. And of course, those who really can't shouldn't be shamed for it, but that doesn't mean they couldn't benefit from some instruction or guidance (or immersion in a culture of more thoughtful language use).

I know some of those guys who write things like ""hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter." It's as often their own sense of privilege that makes them so comfortable writing whatever half-baked, incoherent idea they get without any self-reflective consciousness of an audience. Less privileged people who care (I'm thinking of a lot of more recent immigrants I've known) tend to be a lot more conscientious and careful about their language use (even when they don't necessarily have the advantages).

It's like we're desperately chasing the bottom of everything now--economically, culturally, etc. Most people can learn. The differences in innate human ability are not that significant, even at the extremes. And criticizing someone who you know should be capable of better for their use of crappy, incomprehensible language because they have no respect for their audience or no intention of engaging seriously with a topic is not the same thing as shaming someone from a position of privilege.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's totally wrong that the only way to 1) have respect for your audience and 2) engage seriously with a topic is to make sure your writing is free of grammar and spelling errors. When someone types a sentence like "hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter", who was supposed to read that sentence? If you don't know the answer to that, then there's no way to say whether the person who typed it will be seen as disrespectful and unserious. The intended audience for any typed sentence is never going to be "anyone anywhere".
posted by 23skidoo at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2012


2) engage seriously with a topic is to make sure your writing is free of grammar and spelling errors.

Thanks. I didn't do that. I was referring to the specific example I cited from another comment, relating to online commentary like: "hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter."

And as I thought I made clear, the only people I would dream of criticizing are actual flesh and blood people I know who are capable of making a better effort, but conspicuously don't, who seem to be meaning to communicate with an audience that includes me.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:50 PM on December 12, 2012


This is nonsense. Cultural studies is extremely prescriptivist when it comes to language. For example, it's bad form to use masculine pronouns in a gender neutral way, or other words that imply that male is the default gender and female is the other gender. Although not usually about grammar per se, there other rules about homophobic words, racist words, words that make light of sexual violence and so on.

And for the most part, rightly so. Anti-prescriptivism is moral nihilism.
Judgements about what counts as “right”, “good” and “correct” in writing and grammar always – ALWAYS – align with characteristics of the dialects spoken by privileged, mostly wealthy, mostly white people.
So using gender neutral pronouns and avoiding homophobic slurs and condescending language when referring to other cultures is simply a white liberal upper class obsession of trying to demonstrate our superiority. Rush Limbaugh would love this argument, it's the ultimate example of liberal self-sabotage.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks. I didn't do that. I was referring to the specific example I cited from another comment, relating to online commentary like: "hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter."

I assumed that you thought that the grammer/spelling errors were what was wrong with that sentence. I, too, was talking about that specific example.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:56 PM on December 12, 2012


Can't wait for the post on the Numeracy Privileged.
posted by borges at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2012


I assumed that you thought that the grammer/spelling errors were what was wrong with that sentence. I, too, was talking about that specific example.

No, it's not just those things. It's the fact that it's half-assed and doesn't show any respect for whoever is supposed to be reading it that annoys me, not any specific spelling or grammatical error. Again, if it were someone I didn't know could do better writing it, I might not criticize. Hell, I probably still wouldn't. But let's admit it: some people write poorly and take pride in being ungrammatical because of their own un-examined privilege--they know it won't hurt them either way to be sloppy with spelling or punctuation because they are very secure in their ignorance and can afford to be.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:09 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


> This is nonsense. Cultural studies is extremely prescriptivist when it comes to language. For example, it's bad form to use masculine pronouns in a gender neutral way, or other words that imply that male is the default gender and female is the other gender. Although not usually about grammar per se, there other rules about homophobic words, racist words, words that make light of sexual violence and so on.

And for the most part, rightly so. Anti-prescriptivism is moral nihilism.


You have no idea what's being discussed here, do you?
posted by languagehat at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


You have no idea what's being discussed here, do you?

Somehow a dramatic taiko drum entrance accompanied this in my mind.
posted by CrystalDave at 2:42 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Get the popcorn, everyone.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2012


But let's admit it: some people write poorly and take pride in being ungrammatical because of their own un-examined privilege--they know it won't hurt them either way to be sloppy with spelling or punctuation because they are very secure in their ignorance and can afford to be.

What?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2012


What?
posted by Brandon Blatcher


You read any of Donald Trump's tweets?
posted by Jimbob at 2:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


And for the most part, rightly so. Anti-prescriptivism is moral nihilism.

Summon Languagehat (although I realize he's already here).
posted by GuyZero at 2:59 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with the base premise of the article, but this article really, really made me start hating the word "privilege".

I understand that it's a useful word, but I don't like the way the usage is evolving. These days, it seems to be becoming a self-righteous and arrogant way to dismiss and offensively rebutt anyone who has made the honest mistake of overlooking a marginalized group in their thinking. And let's be honest, who doesn't? We all have blind spots.

Worse, I feel like it's a term that's been adopted not by the marginalized, but those who seek to be white knights in defending them. In other words: it's quickly becoming a tool to bully, to say, "hey, I'm superior to you because I'm more sensitive!"

I mean. If someone makes a gaffe in a group conversation, what's more conductive? Immediately squealing out "CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE", or quietly bringing the person aside after and explaining why you were offended? The point is to get people thinking and learning, not to mark them out as horrible people. Because no one likes thinking that they're awful, and no one will give you the time of the day if you constantly suggest so.

I know it's a generalization, but too often I'm seeing accusations of being privileged replacing calm and reasonable attempts at acknowledging the mistake gently and proceeding towards education. You get more flies with honey than vinegar after all.
posted by Conspire at 3:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


The rule at play here is super simple: Never shame anyone. Shaming is bullying. You can correct someone without shaming them.

Grammar is a cultural convention with an important purpose: creating a shared language that promotes mutual understanding. The act of discussing privilege itself is dependent on mutual understanding. Semiotics is another area that depends on giving priority to how language interacts with privilege.

"Oh you grammar police with your elite language rules. Real folks know what I was talking about." The powers of evil and darkness use this trick all the time to create dog whistles, turns of phrase that technically mean one thing but signify other things to their base. Shared language, including grammar and spelling, matters. Just don't create shame when you are correcting people, don't even shame bigots because in that case you're playing into their own game and it's much more productive to take the high ground.
posted by Skwirl at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder how many people lauding this article have laughed at, or even shared, the "Get a Brain! Morans" picture.
posted by escabeche at 3:18 PM on December 12, 2012


I'm not sure this discussion is quite commensurate with the article. While we're all congratulating ourselves on not nitpicking about minor typos and stylistic slips, the article is talking about how one might respond to a comment like this: "hi im jonny n i like wachin x facter."

Now, no one who writes like that is going to feel welcome on Metafilter unless they have a super thick hide. They wouldn't get openly mocked for writing in that way, but they'd be made to feel, quite clearly, that they weren't participating according to acceptable community norms. And it's not trivially easy to say how one goes about addressing that. It's not simply a matter of everyone agreeing not to be an asshole about minor grammar errors.
posted by yoink at 4:08 PM on December 12


That's a very good point.

I think that it would depend on each situation. I think that, for example, people on Metafilter would be much more forgiving and accepting of non-standard English if a person identifies as ESL. Youth would be less understood - I've always felt that Metafilter tends to be an adult community (as in generally over-18, not porny) and one of the ways that this is achieved is the expectation of mature language and style. Certainly, younger people are welcome, but, as you say, they will only feel really welcome if they can write as if they were older.
posted by jb at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2012


You have no idea what's being discussed here, do you?

Sorry, I skimmed your comments. I don't find them particularly interesting or valuable.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:30 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Immediately squealing out "CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE", or quietly bringing the person aside after and explaining why you were offended?

TONE ARGUMENT!!1!
posted by Jimbob at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder how many people lauding this article have laughed at, or even shared, the "Get a Brain! Morans" picture.

Still makes me laugh.
posted by josher71 at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2012


Can't wait for the post on the Numeracy Privileged.
posted by borges at 5:04 PM on December 12


So, the other day I was looking at job ads and I noticed this advertisement that required that the applicant have a bachelors in health science or psychology. Which might have made sense, since the advertisement was for the study coordinator for a health & psychology study.

EXCEPT that I currently am doing the exact same job for someone else, and I looked closely at the actual job requirements. They would be much better off advertising for someone who had a decree in library science or other information management-heavy research degree (like a History masters), because what the person really needed to know how to do was design small databases for mixed numerical and qualitative data, and do some serious information management (systems to organize appointments/interviews, etc). No health knowledge needed at all -- but lots of information management.

But the science knowledge is privileged above the information management, it seems - and I've seen this elsewhere, at a market research firm I knew who would hire people with physics or engineering decrees because they were numerate (and they certainly were), but never looked twice at people who had studied sociology or psychology, though they were doing survey-based research.
posted by jb at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


decree in library science

No shaming over this minor typo, seriously, but I would much rather have a decree than a degree.

I DECLARE THAT, FROM NOW AND FOREVERMORE, THIS PERSON IS A LIBRARY SCIENTIST!

You may rise, sir knight librarian.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:56 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


My basic problem with the author's argument comes down to these two points, in her third and final post:

Understand that you might not know anything at all about their background.

Well, on the Internet, no one knows anything about anyone's background -- so, where does that leave us? Unable to have any conversation because you might be stepping on someone's toes, or not taking into (enough) consideration some unknown hardship? More than that, how is this different than offline experience? And, finally, it's the implication that one's background carries a level of import that trumps everything else about them. For example, I was raised in a working poor household -- but now, I make 6 figures a year: which of those things is more important to know about me -- if either?

Consider that other people will read your response, and it will in turn influence how they respond to others.

Ah, my old nemesis: collectivism. The very notion that what you do will necessarily drive what other people do, so watch your step! What a bunch of oppressive bullshit! We are individuals, for the love of god. My words and actions are my own -- if you, stupidly and thoughtlessly, decide to copy them, that's on you. How is this difficult to understand? Why are there people who insist on censoring oneself in order to maintain group civility? Insanity.

For me, the argument is simple: it's a far, far crueler, colder thing to allow someone to continue to repeat a grammatical or use-based mistake than it is to correct them. Obviously, correction should be done as politely as possible, but without correction, there is no improvement, no growth. If, indeed, I am to be my brother's keeper, than am I not also responsible for how my brother choose to conjugate his verbs?
posted by gsh at 5:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


When is it appropriate to make fun of someone for misusing the English language? When they are "stupid"? When they are foreign? When they have a learning disability? When they have a low level of education? When they are expressing an opinion you don't like?

(In my opinion it's only appropriate to make fun of someone's language when they're using text-speak ["I would die 4 U"] or jargon [DTMFA, "Baudrillardian syllogisms," etc] that creates a needless barrier between writer and reader or when, as mentioned above, you are OK with being a jerk.)
posted by feets at 5:43 PM on December 12, 2012


If, indeed, I am to be my brother's keeper, than am I not also responsible for how my brother choose to conjugate his verbs?

That should be "then," not "than," and "chooses to conjugate."

And that's all you're getting for free.

How does that feel?
posted by caryatid at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are there people who insist on censoring oneself in order to maintain group civility?

Because it works.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


When is it appropriate to make fun of someone for misusing the English language?

I think the easy answer to that is "when both parties are in on the fun." If I inadvertently say something silly to a friend, we can laugh together about what a silly thing I said. I'd be a jerk, though, to just mock a stranger for making the same solecism to his/her face.
posted by yoink at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


But let's admit it: some people write poorly and take pride in being ungrammatical because of their own un-examined privilege--they know it won't hurt them either way to be sloppy with spelling or punctuation because they are very secure in their ignorance and can afford to be.
What?


It's like using a knife and fork properly is a marker of class (or, more accurately, people who don't do it properly are marked as being of a lower class). But once you have enough wealth/power/whatever, it doesn't really matter if how you hold your knife and fork.

Of course, in my mother's drive to make sure I use a knife and fork properly in the name of 'playing the game', she's programmed me to notice every single damn time someone's doing it wrong, which is only perpetuating the status issue.
posted by hoyland at 7:50 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thinking about the article a bit more, I think the thing that bothers me is not that she's angry, but that she's adopting the stance of a marginalized group that she doesn't belong to, and using that as justification for her anger towards "the privileged". But she doesn't really have a right to be angry; that right belongs solely to those being marginalized. Anger, when used improperly, can end up harming the marginalized - but because she doesn't belong to the groups that she's angry on behalf of, she gets to act without suffering the consequences. Ultimately, it's disrespectful.

I remember an exchange I once had with someone that demonstrates this point. I was speaking to a new acquaintance sitting next to me in a class that didn't know me very well (and especially didn't know that I was deaf, since I don't wear any technological equipment and have a high rate of lip-reading), and had to ask them to repeat their words a few times when they made a slight gag about it being noisy (or something, I can't remember the details very well). Then, my friend who was with us interjected with a loud "he's deaf, you insensitive fuckwit!"

I didn't get the point of that. Yes, maybe my friend did demonstrate that you can't make assumptions about people, but what was the goal? All it did was shut down the conversation, and likely strike a fear of asking questions/making mistakes in the other person. From my perspective as a person with a disability, I want people to learn about me - not just how to act on an outer level towards me, but to get a glimpse at both the joys and tribulations that I undergo on a daily basis, and a glimpse of my philosophies. For that, I don't care if a person makes an honest mistake out of misinformation, because they're opportunities to learn. And I really don't want to scare them out of asking questions.

But that's what my friend, on that day, ended up doing: he stripped the girl sitting next to me of the chance to learn from herself and from me.

And I think that's the problem that I have with some of my "allies" - and in fact, in the past, some of the people I've acted as allies for have had a problem with me before I realized that this was a thing. Automatically assuming everything is done out of malice is unfair, because in most cases, people are fundamentally good people who are willing to learn. And being harsh towards them only drives them so far: they learn how to act on the exterior as to avoid all of the pointing fingers, but they still retain their own internal misconceptions and prejudices because changing those things requires them to take risks and interact with the marginalized as if they were actually people. But they're scared off from doing so by peer pressure and judgment. Who goes to touch a hot stove twice? Ultimately - it's still the internal misconceptions that inform the root problems, because even if we're all saying the right terms and acting the right smiley ways, that's not in any way correlated to actually addressing the root problems at fault.

And sometimes - you just DO need to recognize that you're a small voice against a very big world and it really couldn't help to play nice. I mean, I recognize the tone argument that you shouldn't really have to frame your words nicely for them to be heard. But with this many people, maybe it couldn't kill you to phrase your message in a way more likely to be read, and digestable. I feel that the tone argument often works in an overly idealistic world. In a just world, you shouldn't have to sweeten your tone to get your argument heard, especially if your argument is fundamentally correct. But people are biased, and you fundamentally are asking people to do something very hard - to change the way they see the world. In my viewpoint, I would rather increase the odds that someone will listen to me, than to preserve notions of fairness.

But if not even that, there's something wrong going on if the advocates are angry, but the people actually actively suffering the discrimination are not. Even if it's just because they're tired of being angry all the time, which is an exhausting way to live - I know because I've done it before, it's just not right for the allies to be angry at something that the marginalized aren't because it represents that the allies aren't acting as the voice they should be. Granted, this is not uniform, but I would probably be correct in inferring that for the dyslexic (for instance, she seems to champion a LOT of people), people correcting their grammar online isn't that big of a priority in the grand scheme.

So ultimately, from my experiences, she reads as entitled to me. She's making her argument from a position where she can't be harmed by it. I've made that same mistake many times in the past, too, though, so I can't exactly criticize her for it. It's very easy to get fooled into thinking that you're doing the right thing, but very hard to actually do the right thing.
posted by Conspire at 11:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


The general rule is that the grammar or word usage of native speakers is pretty much always correct, but a large amount of trouble is generated by being correct, but in the incorrect dialect or register for the situation at hand. There's not actually a guide to language beyond that: if it sounds right to a native speaker, it is right.

In written communication things get hairier. We are all native speakers of one language or another, but no one is a native *writer* in the same sense.

That said, I once had a german teacher (native german speaker) who taught that split infinitives are ungrammatical in german, just like they are in english. I was not shy about disagreeing with him on the latter part there, which did not win me any points in a class I was already doing poorly in. I believe I brought up star trek's "to boldly go", which seems to me one of the best known examples of a split infinitive having more emphasis and weight than the alternative.

He told me "Kirk was wrong", and I gave up.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


decree in library science

No shaming over this minor typo, seriously, but I would much rather have a decree than a degree.


I'd like to blame the tiny keyboard of my iPod or maybe autocorrect -

but really, for some unknown reason, I'm always typing "degree" as "decree" - I hear them differently in my mind, but it's a very habituated typo for me now.

Maybe it's wish-fantasy.
posted by jb at 5:56 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not trying to police spelling, but is there a legitimate meaning of "atrostrophe" or is it some sort of portmanteau or a misspelling (intentional or otherwise)?

It looks too....prominent to lack meaning, but I'm probably just missing something or overthinking it.
posted by nile_red at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2012


It's probably a portmanteau of "apostrophe" and "atrocity" meaning "a misplaced apostrophe, as before the ess of a plural."

But I should RTFA already.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:28 AM on December 13, 2012


Conspire--when I argue on behalf of myself andothers like me-- when I take the shitstorm that follows it burns my insides. I hate it. I wish I could never deal with the assholes of the world again and just HAVE A WORLD THAT ACCEPTS ME.

But I don't. And I want to be part of creating a world where people like me could, you know... have friends. And be heard in conversations and experience being part of safe communities in mutually beneficial ways.

So I have to fight for it and it hurts me. It's not good fo me. Idon't evenwant to be an advocate but to not be one is to suffer in silence with no hope of change. I don't have the option of hiding my head in the sand and sinking in the comfort of a nice life in ignorance of the suffering of others. That sounds great, honestly. If I should be so lucky as to do so, I should hope to contuinue to look out for those trapped in suffering with whatever assets my better situation might bring.

I am so thankful when people with more privaledge and status than me help carry the burden because they have the armor to carry it better than I and the blows won't knock them down as hard.

Yes-- people who participate in advocacy have a responsability to make sure that they actually know what sort of advocacy the marginalized group in question might want-- or else they CAN do more harm than good. But their voices are often heard much more than, say, people like me, who can write in blogs til the cows come home and no one is going to pick it up and put it on metafilter. I don't have the same writing capacity, skill set, or social status as she does. I'm glad she used hers as she did.
posted by xarnop at 8:19 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to use lesser words myself.

I know you're being ironic, but this isn't bad advice. High-sounding words tend to hide nonsense.


Only partly trying to be amusing: I write (what aims to be anyway) experimental poetry and down-shifting the tone or mode of something one is writing is an interesting thing to play with.

That said, yes, I agree with you, in a post-Strunkian sort of cut-the-bullshit way.
posted by aught at 8:53 AM on December 13, 2012


That said, yes, I agree with you, in a post-Strunkian sort of cut-the-bullshit way.

Take this too far and you end up with lifeless, flat prose suited only for a technical specification. In the creative writing realm, I'm still really partial to writers with some stylistic flair and panache, who can perform dazzling feats of grammatical acrobatics without compromising the flow or clarity of the language. Nabokov, Hardy, Twain, Dostoevsky (at least, in most English translations), etc., and other stylistic heavyweights, don't get enough respect or appreciation these days. Convoluted syntax, long parenthetical asides, etc., can entertain and exercise the reader's brain in ways I think are undervalued.

It seems to me you can't cut all the bullshit out of a work of fiction, at any rate, or there's nothing left. There's often no underlying real world thing fiction describes that can be described with perfect efficiency or clarity. The writing is the only thing. I used to be a big booster of super-succinct authors like Hemingway and Raymond Carver, and I'm still a fan, but I think things have shifted too far in that direction. Most popular fiction reads like it's been workshopped to death and any traces of a real human voice or any spirit of linguistic playfulness meticulously expunged before it ever makes it to press. To hell with efficiency! We get "efficiency" shoved down our throats at every turn in real life. Our creative arts should revel in artful inefficiency.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:15 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


saul, having started this derail, I agree with you. Language without play bores me. I only meant that fancy, meaningless words, wherever they appear, are as dull as their cousins in the field manuals.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:36 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or the play can be between the words.
posted by aught at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2012


2012 has really been the Year of the Privilege. It's sort of like how there are all these books nowadays about the "neuroscience" of this or that--people taking a fad and running with it to attract attention (whether book sales or internet hits) that they otherwise probably would not have gotten.

As someone mentioned earlier, once the conservatives get wind of this it's going to be a (somewhat justifiable) target of parody.

I guess what's most baffling to me is the absolute abolition of standards the movement seems to be endorsing--writing a readable sentence is An Indicator of Privilege? Really? Frederick Douglass must have been pretty damn privileged, then. Would this internet blogger--if she and her blog existed in his time, and unaware of his life experiences--have told him to check his privilege?

Some of this general lack of writing ability is due to disability, or other hardship, but a lot of it is due to different levels of cognitive functioning, or different types of cognitive processing. Not everything is a function of The Privilege. Some of it is biology. People generally want to hire people who can communicate professionally and efficiently. (I've seen what happens when you, uhhh, don't.)

I'm all for keeping an open mind about what obstacles people might have had to overcome, but these people are really going about it the wrong way. I really hope this phase or trend or whatever it is passes soon, because I feel like it's really hurting equal rights for GLBT at the very least, if not the entire liberal cause in general.
posted by Estraven at 12:15 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no one metric of privilege - it's a multidimensional analysis. Any given person's lack of privilege of one kind has no bearing on weather they experience privilege of a different kind. It modifies how they experience that privilege, but it doesn't negate it.

To use your own example, yeah, Frederick Douglass was literate where others were not, and that was a great advantage he had in his life. It's not inconsistent to talk about privileges he had in his life alongside the great oppressions and disadvantages he faced, if appropriate.

On the other hand, literacy rates were lower overall then: http://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp shows that in 1870, later in his life, 11% of whites in the US were illiterate, and 80% of blacks. This means that being illiterate or poorly literate was less of a disadvantage in the 19th century than it is today, and even less of a disadvantage within the black community of the time. Issues of race and class privilege are deeply tied up in this. The flipside to acknowledging a privilege is acknowledging an oppression. Were illiterate people in the 1800s oppressed as a group? Maybe. I don't know enough to say, but the case for illiteracy being an oppressed class in 2010 is much stronger.

That said, the need to 'check your privilege' only arises when someone is consciously or unconsciously wielding that privilege in a way that hurts others. So should Douglass have checked his literacy privilege? That depends on entirely on how he interacted with and thought about people who were not literate like himself. From available evidence, and given the context of the times, he probably didn't look down on people with poor literacy skills.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:03 AM on December 14, 2012


Not everything is a function of The Privilege. Some of it is biology.

Oh, don't bring biology into the Privilege debate...everyone needs to accept that Western Science is just another privileged position, and it deserves no special acknowledgement above the equally valid frameworks of understanding those lacking in such privilege have...
posted by Jimbob at 3:09 AM on December 14, 2012


As someone mentioned earlier, once the conservatives get wind of this it's going to be a (somewhat justifiable) target of parody.

As we know, whatever is parodied by conservatives can never be taken seriously again.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2012


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