Don’t call me a Grammar Nazi

There are not a great many things I get annoyed about. I’m just not the type to complain, generally speaking. I tend to keep my more negative opinions to myself, which would probably explain why I don’t post regularly on here, but one element of modern life I find increasingly difficult to ignore is the frankly appalling use of the English language I’m subjected to on a daily basis.

As a child I taught myself to read very early on. I would read everything – road signs, adverts, magazines, books, album sleeves, newspapers, shop fronts – anything I saw made of words. In my nursery years, while all the other kids were painting pictures around a table lined with newspaper, I was reading the television listings pages from said newspaper to them. I was the first child in my year to be given a reading book by my school (a Tim and Tobias story entitled The Highwayman, for those interested) and that probably still remains my most prized achievement.

While I appreciate that there is an almost unending list of things more important going on in the world, I am hugely irritated by poor spelling in public places. I understand that errors can slip through the net, and that nobody is perfect. There’s probably a hideous spelling/grammatical error in this blog entry somewhere (or maybe I’ve put it there intentionally…).

Now fully ensconced in my adult years, I am regularly asked what I consider my strengths. Most of the time, my answers are expected to include such mundane delights as ‘organisation’, ‘attention to detail’ or ‘hardworking’ but although these are all perfectly acceptable responses, they’re not actually true. What I want to say is “I am fiercely proud of my ability to spell correctly and I can spot a spelling error from over fifty yards”. I never do, though. Nobody else seems to be that impressed anymore, to be honest.

In Manchester city centre, just off Oxford Road, there is an official council street sign I passed pretty much every day while travelling on the bus to work. The sign reads ‘Univerisity halls’. That’s univerisity. Okay, so that’s a spelling error. It happens. I don’t believe for a second that the signwriter actually thinks that ‘university’ is spelled that way. But what I don’t believe is that nobody involved in the process of writing, submitting, printing, making and placing the sign hadn’t spotted it. I also don’t believe that I’m the only person in Manchester to have seen it. So why hasn’t it been taken down and corrected? Even a spot of paint over the rogue ‘i’ would suffice. The sign is placed next to a school, so it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that the pupils at said school may not have seen the word ‘university’ written down before, and that they may assume that this is the correct spelling.

I received a printed taxi leaflet through my door some time ago. I kept the leaflet as I use that particular taxi firm a lot, and they’re always reliable. Their advert however offers “Taxi, Mini Bus and Privet Hire”. In this case, I can actually let it go that they’ve split ‘minibus’ into two words. But ‘privet’? That’s a type of hedge. They’re distributing leaflets through doors that people are going to read. If I had still been a nipper I would have taken that information in, and quite possibly learned to spell ‘private’ incorrectly. Why didn’t the printers fix it? Why couldn’t they just call their client and double-check? It’s both tragic and hilarious.

As I briefly touched upon earlier in my post, I can spot a spelling error incredibly quickly. It’s both a blessing and a curse, to be honest. I’ve lost count of the amount of restaurants I’ve visited, skimmed through the menu and spotted ‘ceasar/caeser’ salad on offer. It’s now the first thing I look for when the menu is handed to me. If they’ve spelled caesar correctly, then I can relax a little. Generally speaking, while I read a book or magazine nowadays errors almost jump out at me from the page, like when you spot a bug crawling across your wall from the corner of your eye. I can’t write texts like ‘Hw R U M8’ because I actually find that more difficult than typing out the whole thing.

Errors in published works are, for me, unforgiveable. Not only should the manuscript be double-checked by the author, but if it is written on a word processor the series of little red squiggly lines should make mistakes perfectly obvious (NB: I just looked up ‘double-checked’ online to confirm whether it should be hyphenated or not. I am not too proud to admit that I don’t know everything, and that if I’m unsure, I’ll look it up). After the author submits their manuscript to the publisher, the work should then be copy-edited and proofread to minimise misprints. There are people who are employed, both freelance and salaried, by the publishing companies to do this job. I’ll be honest with you, it’s my dream job. If I felt I could make enough money to live on while retraining as a proofreader/copy-editor then I would do it immediately. Unfortunately I’m a lawyer with fifteen years experience in my field and not much in the way of available savings, so I’m not in a comfortable enough position to leave my post to get myself qualified. Instead, I’m left to curse silently under my breath when I come across a mistake.

The internet is shocking. On social media I see post after post after post laden with badly spelled, badly worded entries which make me absolutely cringe. I feel however that I cannot do anything about it. It seems that nowadays there is a tendency to view anyone who corrects spelling as a ‘Grammar Nazi’. Why are we so derided by the public as a whole? Why, of all the negative comparisons people could use, are we compared to the Nazis? We’re trying to help, that’s all. I see arguments on YouTube (mainly because that’s all there is on there) where horrendous accusations and foul language and tirades of abuse are launched at anyone and everyone, and barely anybody does anything about it. It seems the acceptable norm. But as soon as someone points out a spelling mistake, THEY’RE the evil one. Apparently correcting someone’s usage of English nowadays automatically means you’ve lost an argument. Sorry, that’s just bollocks. Besides, I have never seen an online argument won or lost – just one side who thinks they’ve won and another side who’s decided they have better things to do with their day. But I digress.

I don’t expect everyone in the world to be able to spell perfectly. I can’t spell perfectly. There are plenty of enormous words in the English language I have never even seen, never mind learned to spell. But to use the word ‘Nazi’ to describe someone who cares enough about the written word to actually try to do something about bad usage is both disingenuous and downright insulting. I joke about being a Grammar Nazi myself, now. I learned a long time ago that the best way to make yourself utterly bulletproof from bullying and insults is to learn to not take anything people say about you seriously. It still doesn’t mean though that being proud of an ability should be treated as a negative.