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.

Latersville.

Who’s left me feeling Cold….

This post contains spoilers for the recent Doctor Who episode “Cold War”. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, don’t read on.

I may be jumping the gun slightly here, as last week’s episode of Doctor Who took a repeat watch before I realised just how much I enjoyed it, despite the niggling little issues I had with it. Tonight’s episode, Cold War, was one I was looking forward to, due to the high regard in which it’s been held by previewers, however I must admit I wasn’t as satisfied with the finished product as I’d been hoping.

Firstly though, I’ll concentrate on the positives. This episode was the first one in a while which genuinely felt like a ‘classic’ episode of Doctor Who. Aside from the return of an old enemy, the Ice Warriors, the close-quarters nature of the submarine in which the action was set meant that we could enjoy a largely CGI-free 45 minutes. Such is the epic and grand scale of much of current Doctor Who that CGI is used frequently (albeit to wonderful effect). Cold War, conversely, gave us scale models and real sets, showing that hi-tech wizardry isn’t always required to provide the audience with a visual feast. The direction of the episode was outstanding, giving us a real tangible feeling of suspense, especially once the Ice Warrior himself discarded his protective suit and started to hunt the crew, in a style similar to James Cameron’s Alien.

It seems we have seen the Doctor’s first sonic screwdriver with a ‘red’ setting, first hinted at when we saw River Song’s screwdriver in Silence in the Library a few years ago. It seems therefore that we’re heading toward the moment the Doctor gives River that screwdriver, which I’m willing to bet happens in the final episode of this series, or perhaps the 50th Anniversary special. More importantly though, I was chuffed to see Mark Gatiss writing in a situation where the Doctor was separated from his sonic as well as the TARDIS, something I’d been hoping for in a previous blog entry. On this subject, I note that the TARDIS now has a restored Hostile Action Displacement System (H.A.D.S.), which in the classic series was created to remove the TARDIS from dangerous or violent situations. I will return to this shortly.

I enjoyed some of the performances in Cold War, not least David Warner as Professor Grisenko, the resident scientist on the submarine, and Tobias Menzies as Lieutenant Stepashin harked back to the classic days of Who – the turncoat who tries to partner up with the key antagonist of the episode a la Tekker in Timelash. And of course the return of the Ice Warriors provided the costuming department with the unenviable task of creating a new, credible look for the Martians which had the feel of the classic monster without looking hackneyed or out of date. Grand Marshall Skaldak (for that is his name) was realised very well indeed, and casting a 6’7″ actor in Spencer Wilding was an excellent move.

In general however, Cold War didn’t quite hit me like some previous episodes have. It didn’t feel like an episode which was part of a “series” – in that it could have been put in anywhere and didn’t link to anything we’d seen earlier – and the Doctor and Clara being there in the first place just didn’t seem to make any sense. According to the Doctor, they were heading for Las Vegas and clearly totally got the time and destination absolutely wrong, despite the previous episode suggesting that the Doctor had just got the hang of his aim and skill at piloting the TARDIS. What happened to the days of the Doctor checking where they were after he landed before opening the police box doors? I appreciate that Neil Gaiman established in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS regularly goes where the Doctor NEEDS to go rather than where he WANTS to go, but I still feel that their presence on a Russian submarine in 1983 was a little contrived.

The opening sequence too puzzled me. The Ice Warrior was sealed in thick ice from the outset. We hear from one of the crew guarding the creature that Professor Grisenko wanted to wait to return to his laboratory before releasing the beast from its icy prison, however that same crew member decides (for no apparent reason except for mere curiosity) to blatantly disobey orders and takes a blowtorch to the frozen block, allowing Skaldak his escape.

Shortly after the Doctor and Clara arrive, and are captured by the Russians (and for some reason not immediately shot) the H.A.D.S. kicks in and removes the TARDIS from trouble. I very much hope that the Doctor disables this device as soon as he returns to his craft, as this is a far too simple way for future writers to remove the TARDIS from the Doctor’s reach. We have seen a good example of how this can be done effectively in The Almost People/The Rebel Flesh, where we see the ship sucked into the ground early in the first episode, only to be rediscovered at the end of the second. Simple, but effective, and an excellent way to make things more difficult for the Doctor and his companions.

Something about Clara bugged me throughout Cold War. Assuming this episode is set after The Rings of Akhaten, we know that Clara has already been uploaded into a Wi-fi cloud and directly battled a sun-sized parasitic creature in space. I would have thought then that she would now be on the way to fully-fledged ‘companion’, especially given that they were supposed to be on their way to a jolly in Las Vegas. I sensed much more doubt in her this week, which surprised me, as she certainly didn’t seem full of self-doubt last week as she flung herself across space on a moped to save the universe from a planet-scoffing alien sun, armed with just a leaf.

I found the majority of this episode mostly forgettable, sadly. I never really believed that we were on a Russian submarine – surely an accent of some sort from the cast might have helped there – but for me Cold War was a little….dare I say it….dull. The middle 30 minutes tended to just trudge along, with a few stops for conversation, in which we learned precious little about the characters, culminating in the final showdown in which the Doctor threatens to destroy the sub rather than allow Skaldak to fire the nuclear missiles on board. The trouble with this scene was that I just didn’t believe that the Doctor would have carried out his threat, and as such it seemed far too obvious that in the end, Skaldak wouldn’t press the button. For the second week in a row, Clara stepped in to defeat the enemy where the Doctor failed, with a callback to an earlier throwaway conversation with the Martian about his daughter. It was during this scene we were shown Skaldak’s face without his helmet, which, compared to some of the special effects we’ve seen in recent years, was terribly unconvincing.

I felt that we’d seen the basic premise of this episode before. The lonely monster, the last of its kind, captured on Earth – all factors explored in the Eccleston episode “Dalek”. It’s a clever way to reintroduce a species we haven’t seen in the Whoniverse for around 40 years, granted, but it was all a little bit of a rehash. It worked in “Dalek”, as there was an obvious comparison between said Dalek and that incarnation of the Doctor, who was also the last of his kind due to his recent actions in the unseen Time War. It didn’t have the same impact here.

The ending of the episode was all a little ‘E.T. Phone Home’, featuring the inevitable return of the rest of Skaldak’s species who came to pick him up in their pretty cheaply rendered CGI spaceship. At this point we learn that the TARDIS has relocated itself at the South Pole, and not the North Pole, where the episode is set. Most amusing indeed, but it all felt a little sitcom-y. I can only guess that the Doctor has an override system built into his sonic screwdriver, because I’m not sure that he or Clara would get very far travelling on foot, given that Clara is only wearing a wet evening dress and the Doctor’s jacket doesn’t look like it will keep much of the cold out.

I have a feeling that Cold War will be one of those episodes which will be popular with a great many people, as the things it does well, it does very well. And I’m sure we’ll see Skaldak and the rest of the Ice Warriors in the future, and I must state that I’m not against this generally. It is refreshing to encounter a Doctor Who monster who actually can be reasoned with, unlike the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels et al. But the episode itself, I feel is somewhat of a let down after the building up of the return of the Ice Warriors.