the grammar police
August 13, 2008 9 Comments
This post on Sugarbutch today touched on one of my pet peeves–the fetishization of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Other people’s pet peeves, as it were. Bear in mind that this is just my opinion, and I’m not directing this at Sinclair specifically (though it may undeniably seem so). It really is just a general rant about something that upsets me.
First, I’d like to make clear where I’m coming from. At the selective private college I attended, I worked for the school paper as a copy editor for two years, was a peer tutor for the English department, and spent nearly every evening of my last year as an undergraduate in the library working on my honor’s thesis (80 pages of critical theory which I hope no one will ever read). Professionally, I work in a library and have spent a great deal of time writing memos, grant applications, press releases, and other publications which require a strong ability to structure language. I’m studying for the GREs right now and so far there aren’t a lot of words in the verbal section which I haven’t seen before.
In short, I’m a bibliophile too. And I understand why people believe that a lack of attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar reflects a ” lack of attention to detail” generally (as Sinclair puts it). And yes, it lends itself well to erotic power play–who hasn’t been chastised in school or elsewhere for sloppy writing? I too have a vintage Westcott ruler, and although I use it at work I’ve considered bringing it home. I have a few plaid skirts as well…
Schoolgirls are all well and good, but it’s the “elsewhere” that gets me. Because the role-play we like in bed often reflects a real-world situation in which there is a significant power balance, and in our real world lives, it isn’t always in a teacher/pupil context. I think that in most real-world situations where a person is being corrected for their inability to write in a specific manner, the power imbalance is often based on certain assumptions about class, race, and social status. These issues have nothing to do with the writer’s intellectual abilities, or even their ability to make themselves understood.
Without getting into an in-depth analysis of the failures of our public education system and the particulars of descriptive grammar theory, my basic feeling is: if you understand what a person is trying to say, and the only difference between what they’ve written and what you think they should have written is a capital letter here or there, all that your criticism does is make you seem elitist. In short, I think it’s a pile of classist bullshit, and if this issue hasn’t yet been featured on Stuff White People Like, I would happily nominate it.