“Should We Allow Poor Grammar To Shape The Evolution Of Our Language?” Or “The Reasons Why Grammar Police Should Get Over Themselves.”

I have been thinking about writing this post for ages. Unlike the 77 half written posts that are currently sitting in my drafts section, some posts seem to rattle around my head forever waiting for that spark to happen. Sometimes, all I’m waiting for is that moment when an idea that I have dancing around in my head appears in front of me, either in real life, or in my virtual one, online, having discussions on Facebook or other forums. And that came just after 2am this morning in the form of a question posted in a discussion group I’m in. Of course I had to wait until circa 4:30am when my 4yo son woke me by jumping in our bed rendering me wide awake, not being able to get back to sleep.

So, in true me fashion, even though it was 4:30am, I got up to get myself a coffee and do some reading, albeit through very tired eyes. But I digress. Here’s the question that was posed…

What’s with people saying “I am bias“?

The first response, which came sometime after 3am by a group member awoken by a bad dream she had, asked if there was actually anything wrong with it? Some time between her question and me getting up to read it, the original poster of the question responded with…

Shouldn’t it be “I am biased”?

In what I believe was actually a rhetorical question, the answer was truly given, but just to be 100% sure, I googled it. Google gave me this response which I copied and posted into the discussion;

“A person who is influenced by a bias is biased. The expression is not “they’re bias,” but “they’re biased.” Also, many people say someone is “biased toward” something or someone when they mean biased against. To have a bias toward something is to be biased in its favour.”

That passage comes from the book Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians which you can find by clicking here.

I will be totally honest with you; when I read the question in the original post, I had to think back as to whether I had been caught out making this mistake. I think I might have slipped up recently. Maybe not. I mean, I’m fairly tough on myself when it comes to making sure I have the correct spelling and the right grammar, even in a casual environment like a Facebook discussion group. And this very group in particular.

Spelling and Grammar In Schools

At my eldest son’s school, they recently held a seminar for parents with the topic being writing. The seminar covered topics such as learning words, structuring sentences, punctuation and correct grammar, the importance of handwriting, plus a few other things. Over the course of the seminar, four or five teachers contributed to the presentation and at the end of the presentation, they opened the floor for a question and answers session. In true “me” fashion, I had a question to ask. And also, in true me fashion, my question came with a preamble, like I was part of the preselected studio audience on the popular Australian discussion show, Q&A, also known as Qanda.

“Never before have we, in our civilisation, been conversing with each other in the written form. Sure we used to write letters to friends and family, but now we live in a time when we are conversing in the written form on a daily basis, be it on social media, through emails or text messages. Where before we would talk to our neighbours face-to-face over the backyard fence, we tend to now, sit in our homes and “speak” (I actually did the quotation marks) to them on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter or by text message. So how are we teaching our children about this? I mean, more so than just how to write a constructive sentence, how is it that we are teaching them in our schools to converse in real time in the written form?”

And I paused. But… before I could let them answer that, I shot off an addendum in case I lost control of being able to ask a follow up. I directed my question at one of the teachers who was driving the conversation by acknowledging everything that I said through positive body language in the form of nods, as well as verbal “uh has.”

“I mean, you and I are talking here, live, face-to-face, and I can only take on face value, using assumptions of your position as a teacher that you are spelling the words that you’re saying correctly in your head. If at all. For all I know, sure you’re pronouncing the words correctly, which is great because I can understand you, but in the written form, we need to know that our children are learning about our language at a rate that is keeping up with what is happening online. Our language is a growing language, evolving, and yet being de-constructed and abused, and the Grammar Police, myself included, are ready to pounce on those weaker in their writing skills.”

Yes, my line of questioning DOES take some time to be delivered. And this, whilst not verbatim of the words I used, is almost word-for-word to what I said at this seminar.

“But language is there for us to communicate and nothing more. As long as I can understand you, and you can understand me, what does it matter if you’re thinking “t-h-e-r-e” but you’re meaning “t-h-e-i-r” when I fully understand what you’re saying? The importance is in the communiqué, not the spelling, nor the grammar.”

And with that inclusion of a term we stole from the French, and the downward inflection in my voice, my question – or should that be statement – or maybe “questment” which would be an appropriate portmanteau, to steal from the French again, I was done.

The reply came back in the form of “well that’s for the high schools to worry about because you can’t get a Facebook account until you’re 13,” but the general vibe from all of the teachers there doing the presentation was that whilst this is important, the department’s curriculum was where they would be focusing their time. And I could appreciate that response. Well, until, my son’s own teacher who was one of the presenters, spoke up.

“We aren’t focusing too much on spelling now that you’ve mentioned that. What we do care about in their punctuation, their grammar, and how well the sentence is structured overall. Are we getting a clear communication from this student? Are they understanding how to write, and are they getting their message across.”

Wow. Excellent. The focus is on reality, not just on getting everything to be perfect in a world where nothing is. I mentioned in that discussion group that I had an old idea for a blog post based on the question of correct grammar, and one of the other members asked me what was the title of my post. I replied with;

“Working titles are “Should We Allow Poor Grammar To Shape The Evolution Of Our Language?” And “The Reasons Why Grammar Police Should Get Over Themselves.””

Grammar Police Meme

Words are changing. Words are evolving. What a word means today might not be what it means tomorrow. Well, that is, it might mean the same thing to you and I, but to our kids, that word can take on a whole new meaning.

When people tell me that something good is happening, when I get an email, for example from my head office telling me that an order is being dispatched early or on time, I generally reply with a verbal or written “sweet.” Because to me, things that are going according to plan are, wait for it, sweet. Before that, and maybe much earlier into my life, in that same scenario, everything would have been “cool.” But sweet and cool weren’t created for my bastardisation and slanging pleasure; these words once meant “having the pleasant taste characteristic of sugar or honey; not salt, sour, or bitter” and “of or at a fairly low temperature” respectively. And they still do.

According to the website Shakespeare Online, the English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.

This is still happening now. We are still changing nouns to verbs. I mean, pretty much for the last almost seven years I’ve done a lot of parenting (verb) whereas, my parents (noun), at the same age as I am now, pretty much, were just, well, parents (noun).

So what if someone does write “I am bias” rather than the grammatically correct “I am biased?” I mean, surely we know what they mean, and our line of communication is working. Surely we can work out that this person holds an opinion that is “unfairly prejudiced for or against someone or something” rather than them meaning that they have an “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair;” which is pretty much the same thing. (Definitions of biased and bias from Google’s dictionary).

I know I’m not perfect having slipped in a “their” instead of a “there,” and vice versa, although I am very particular about not using either when I am using the contraction for “they are (they’re).” And in the absence of an editor for my blog, I know that this website would have more than one grammatical or spelling error littered amongst the posts.

Just recently, a friend from within that same discussion group sent me a private message with this screenshot;

complement vs compliment
“My complements to the chef. Or should that be compliments?”

I had misspelled complimentary using an E instead of that I, and although the two of us have running jokes about bad grammar and we are happy to pull each other up behind the scenes, it would seem that, for the most part, having MANY fellow Grammar Police within that group, my message was understood, even with the wrong letter in play.

I wasn’t a fan of where Alanis Morrisette took the word ironic. I’m not a fan of how some people say “isn’t that ironic” when they mean “coincidental.” Yes, seriously, that’s a thing. Google it if you don’t believe me (because, you know, Google holds all the truths). And even though it has evolved to include situational irony, of which, one might suggest, is somewhat ironic of me not to accept seeing that I am in favour of the natural evolution of our language, it still grates on me. For for me, irony always has, and always will mean the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Irony cannot evolve. Should not evolve. It. Just. Shouldn’t. Well…

And although I was one of those people who went out hard, correcting the grammar and spelling of friends and family online, I have softened in the past couple of years. Because, when it comes down to it, I have to stick by the words that I spoke in the public domain; The importance is in the communiqué, not the spelling, nor the grammar

Are you a Grammar Police member? Do you like to correct people online when they make grammatical or spelling errors? What’s the one thing that really grinds your gears when misused in the English language?

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