Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love linguistic drift
“You’re dog was tracking mud all through there house. I was literally so embarrassed that I thought I’d die!”
If that sentence sent you into frothing paroxysms of rage, you’re not alone. I was once a self-declared grammar stickler, a nit-picky lit freak. There was a time when I’d deface my Dungeons and Dragons source manual with red ink, zeroing in on a missing comma and dashing a blood-colored smatter on the page. My particularity with punctuation led me to write the word “e-mail” with a hyphen and type in full grammatical sentences even when I had a number-pad cell phone. Since I was reading at a “12th grade” level in elementary school, I sprinkled words like “redolent” and “indemnity” into my standardized test essays. I even made sure my god-awful Sephiroth/Cloud fan fiction had proper spelling and punctuation. Even if the content was stereotypical and disturbing, at least it had better grammar than 99 percent of the other dreck on http://fanfiction.net.
My fastidiously proper way with words served me well in the SATs and AP English, yet also led to endless amounts of seething rage, especially on that wretched hive of chat-speak and idiocy that is the Internet. Whenever I exhausted the canon of a work of media, be it a TV show, a webcomic, or a movie, I naturally turned to the world of online fandom to appease my hunger for content. That means I had to slog through the slurry of abortive ideas, run-on sentences, and just plain bad writing to find the diamond buried in the lump of crap. I hoarded my +1’s and reviews and favorites like squirrels hoard nuts.
Despite being so selective with my approval, I rarely contributed to the fandoms I perused. I was simply “God Unto High,” passing judgment upon the mere mortals and their human folly. I realized that for all my haughty attitude, I had nothing to contribute; I didn’t post my abominable slash stories, role-play, or fill anonymous story requests. Writing properly doesn’t help you write interestingly at all.
In addition, I became aware of my own errors in my use of English. For years, I thought that “nonplussed” meant “not bothered” when it really means the opposite. Due to a misremembered vocabulary book, I believed “moot” meant “not worthy of debate” when it really means “highly debatable.” For practical usage, there are rules in English that aren’t worth keeping track of. “A painting is hung, a man is hanged,” or so it is said, but hardly anyone is hanged at all nowadays. In punctuation, styles often conflict, so there is a grand conflict of whether to use the Oxford comma (the comma that goes before the “and” in a list of items) and Chicago style versus Associated Press style versus British style versus American style.
Eventually, I became inured to the sophomorism of Youtube comments and people TYPING IN ALL CAPS; enough exposure can acclimate you to anything. And since English is a descriptive language and not a prescriptive one, if enough people write in an “incorrect” way, the dictionaries will pick it up, and it will become correct.
That doesn’t mean I can completely ignore grammar. I’m the goddamn Campus Life Editor after all. But it means I can ignore the little things, like using “Steve Jobs” as a verb, if the phrasing serves a greater purpose. I want to focus more on content and clarity of communication rather than splitting hairs on infinitives.
These days, when I see a post on Reddit with an obvious error, I make a note of it and move on. It’s not my job to edit the world. But if you insist you’re dying literally, I might have to make that statement true.