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.



Writing Test

I had just killed a man. The handgun I shot him with was clasped tightly in my right hand, still aiming toward where he had stood seconds before. As my eye peered through the sight atop the weapon I could see nothing but remnants of the dead man’s brain stuck to the wallpaper, splattered around the bullet hole newly formed just above the fireplace.
I lay upon the recently varnished wooden floor of the apartment, my back resting on the soft black leather of the settee behind me. My arm grew tired, and I lowered my weapon, trembling as I did so. As my hand neared the floor I allowed the gun to slip from my fingers as I loosened my grip, and I heard the heavy crack as it fell to the ground, followed soon after by my weary hand.
I looked at the dead man across the room. His motionless body was strewn face down on the floor, the hole in the back of his head still leaking brain tissue and blood. I closed my eyes, and tilted my head back until it came to rest on the cushioned leather behind me.
My ears were still ringing, and aside from the distant sound of sirens cutting through the city streets below I could hear nothing. I became aware of a damp, warm sensation over my upper body, and raising my left hand to my chest I pinched the wet material with my thumb and index finger, pulling it away from my skin, only for it to reattach itself on release. Further exploration of my chest caused a sharp, unpleasant pain to course through my entire body, and my eyes involuntarily opened, the ceiling light directly above blinding me as quickly as the pain had done.
With all the strength I could muster, I slowly lifted my head and looked down at my torso. My shaking, crimson-red fingers were resting upon a gaping hole, dead centre in the middle of my chest, where his bullet had entered me. I realised then that I was lying in a pool of my own blood, and the adrenaline shooting through my veins was acting as a painkiller. I could feel my body gradually shutting down. I let my head drop back to rest on the settee, and lay with my eyes half open, staring lazily at the ceiling light. Dazzled by the bright beam, the fuzzy orange dots dancing in my vision, I slowly closed my eyes.
The approaching sirens I heard earlier had now reached their destination. I could hear a commotion outside at street level, and a faint clatter, before the heavy-booted footsteps entered the building and began racing up the stairs towards the apartment.
I thought of Rachel. A solitary tear welled up in my left eye, and drifted down my cheek, dripping onto the leather below my head. The noise of the rapidly ascending officers outside was gradually drowned out by the sound of the ocean, lapping at the shore. We were on the beach, holding each other as Emma played in the sea, laughing and waving. I could smell the salt in the air, and I could feel the blistering heat of the midday sun enveloping us. I tried to wave back to Emma, but I couldn’t move my arms.
My dreamworld was soon interrupted by the thunderous cracking and splintering of the apartment door, as the armed response unit flooded the room. I could not distinguish the orders being shouted at me, probably to put my hands behind my head or to get down on the floor, but I was unable to do either. I simply lay there, staring at the ceiling light above, as several gun barrels were pointed at my lifeless body.
My fingers, sticky with my own fresh blood, trembled gently as I closed my eyes a final time, and all went black.