Grammar police take on Twitter

April 28, 2010 at 8:36 pm (read)

I love grammar and punctuation. In high school, I thought the standardized tests that asked you to correct sentences were fun. I use semicolons in text messages. My job involves proofreading. I have a visceral reaction to mangling of the English language. I don’t understand what is so damn difficult about distinguishing its and it’s, your and you’re, their and there and they’re, and I admit to judging people who seem incapable of doing so or simply don’t care.

For these reasons, the internet often pains me.

So imagine my delight in reading today’s New York Times article about people who troll Twitter for grammar and spelling mistakes and publicly chastise the guilty tweeters. I’ve had to rein in my tendency to correct or point out errors (not on Twitter, just in general), because nobody likes a critic. Luckily, fearless linguistic leaders such as Grammar Fail, Grammar Hero, Your Or Youre and CapsCop are trying to clean up the website. (Grammar Fail and Grammar Hero actually aren’t very good–i.e., as often happens, the style section may be exaggerating a trend–but I’m more jazzed about the fight than the individual sites.)

One complaint. In a piece about valuing correct English, there is no room for this sentence:

“They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.”

Barf. Unlike “twitterati,” “tweetup,” “twitterature” and all the other obnoxious fake combination words, “twetiquette” isn’t even a clean rhyme.

The article mentions a couple of celebrity offenders, John Cusack and Kirstie Alley. I love this exchange and little zinger from the writer, John Metcalf:

“GrammarCop, one of several people who seem to exist on Twitter solely to copy-edit others, recently received a beatdown from the actress Kirstie Alley, to whom he had recommended the use of a plural verb form instead of a singular. ‘Are you high?’ Ms. Alley wrote back. ‘You really just linger around waiting for people to use incorrect grammer? you needs a life.’ (One of Ms. Alley’s people said that the actress was too busy to comment for this article.)

A life, indeed. While some of us may live to host weight-loss shows, others find solace in pedantry.”

In the comments on the article, “get a life” is a predictable refrain. “They literally need a life,” writes one reader. Uh huh. Because they are dead. And trolling Twitter from beyond the grave.

A few people express relief that at least they’re not alone, and that someone else out there still cares about grammar. (I should mention that I wrote this post in Microsoft Word first, and the grammar check suggested that I change “there” to “their.”) Brooke from San Francisco is especially eloquent:

“Do people tell mathematicians to stop being all fussy about numbers? I cringe at bad spelling, grammar, punctuation – and I’m an editor. Some people dig that precision, and we become editors. And editors are important! … No one makes fun of precision in accounting, or architecture, or carpentry — but language? Apparently we need to ‘get a life.’ I object strongly to this derision of what I take seriously. A world without editors = the New York Times reading like a Cusack tweet.”

But perhaps the most useful comment was this: “It is sad that the New York Times has given credence to self-righteous twits like these jr. grammar cops. If these ninnies want to change the world, they might consider becoming real teachers rather than simply running amok with virtual rulers.”

Good idea. If people who rant about terrible grammar (that includes me) put that energy into volunteering at an after-school program or tutoring kids, that would probably have more of a real, positive impact than adding to the cacophony of 50 million tweets per day.


1 Comment

  1. Adrian said,

    I’ve stumbled upon this blog out of the blue. It involved oddly enough, looking for something Gatsby related. I had to comment on this however. My personal grammar and punctuation can be unpleasant, but I find it hard to not try to make it presentable when it’s for public consumption. I’ve begun to tweet, as they call it, and that 140 character limit is a real buzzkill. I can’t quite bring myself ‘2 just put wutevr to sav chars.’ It’s become a fun challenge to satisfy my need to have my periods or commas in place. I believe the standard is for two spaces after a period, but I’ve allowed myself only one space, but other than this, if it won’t fit, and I can’t make it, then it doesn’t get said.

    Sorry, I ramble a bit. Like you’re blog, may be bookmarking it after some more reading.

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