No One Likes a Grammar Snob

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No One Likes a Grammar Snob

Be careful when you ask for writing advice. Some people want to do it the right way—determine what you want to say and to whom, and help you do so. But some only want to bring you in line with their idea of “correct” writing. They’re pedants, who think there’s only one right way to express yourself, and like all pedants, they’d rather be right than smart. They’re neither.

There are pedants for every area of knowledge: people who gatekeep under the guise of educating others. But they crop up often, and visibly, in the area of language, where everyone has experience, so anyone can pretend to be an expert. And editor Pippa Bailey roasts them in an essay about the evolution of language.

Unwavering pedantry is not a love of language, but something uglier: a desire always to be right and to put others down. It is superior and elitist; language not as a means of communication but of status.

A pedant thinks that their language was handed down from on high in its current form. They ignore all the changes that formed the language as they speak it, and they decry every change since. They think language is fixed like a law of physics. This is like thinking that a dollar is worth a dollar because of the value of green ink. It’s Steve Martin’s joke about visiting France: “These people, it’s like they’ve got a different word for everything!”

Pedants fail to recognize that language is always imperfect, that it does not exist outside the people who use it, that it is all literally made up. Even the book of Genesis says that God took all the animals, and “brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.” Second chapter of the ultimate book of prescriptivism, and it specifically says that God didn’t name the animals but waited to see what humans would call them.

You can similarly take apart any form of pedantry in any area of knowledge. But it’s especially easy to recognize in language, because we’re all constantly using language every day, ignoring the “rules” and letting the language evolve. Everywhere you’l

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