A Note from the Grammar Mafia

I know that, from time to time, I make some grammatical mistakes.  I start too many sentences with And and So.  I have tense issues.  I use the wrong pronouns.  And sometimes, sometimes, I even use the wrong “their.”  There are three to choose from.  It’s going to happen. 

And if this matters to you, then you should unsubscribe immediately because here at Outdriving My Headlights, we value story–your story, my story, the stories we’re sharing with each other.   

“But you’re a writer,” I hear you saying.  “Isn’t grammar important to you?  Don’t we need grammar to be able to communicate?” 

Well, yes, we do.  That’s true.  The better we can wield the tools of grammar, syntax, vocabulary and spelling, the better we can craft our story. 

But here’s my problem:  when we’re all standing in line at the post office, tentatively chatting each other up to pass the slowed-to-a-crawl time, and the lovely lady in the green dress begins to captivate us with tales of her family’s recent safari in South Africa, you do not stop her to correct her pronoun usage

I mean, you understood that she meant that her daughter and her were left on the bank by the boat, right?  You didn’t think she meant her daughter and a lawn chair?  Or her daughter and an eggplant? 

I didn’t think so.  So why are you correcting her? 

a) You’re insecure enough to judge the sweet, well-traveled lady who was brave enough to share her story with you.
b) You’re selfish enough not to care that you’ve made her uncomfortable.
c) You’re a jackass.
d) All of the above.

And so here’s my point:  if you’re already understanding the story, if you’re already communicating, and you’re still correcting grammar, then your primary goal isn’t to improve the communication at all.  It’s to assert your own superiority and draw attention to yourself. 

This provokes me to start a movement–a movement against the Grammar Police.  This is for everyone I’ve ever met in my life who has stopped me right in the middle of my story to say, “No, it’s whom,” for all the writers I’ve known who use the rules of grammar to judge others, for that dumbass in the post office for stopping the nice lady’s story because I wanted to hear what happened with the snake and the sunglasses and now I’ll never know.  

If you’d like to join my movement, consider yourself a member.  We shall call ourselves The Grammar Mafia.

To all the Grammar Police out there, here is our letter to you. 

Dear Grammar Police,

We see you.  We’ve met you.  We know you. 

You correct your grandmother at the Thanksgiving table.  You scoff at the television.  You laugh at “supposeably.” 

You judge us by our typos.  You use silly words like “masticate” and “utilize.”  You never use “lie” when you mean “lay.” 

We are not impressed. 

We are not impressed by technical knowledge spewed out by rote.  We do not value the judgment of others and we do not care for your self-righteous superiority.  We believe that meaningful human communication depends more on honesty, transparency, and earnestness than on the correct conjugation of “to swim.” 

As long as communication is made with respect, kindness, and a genuine willingness to share, we will honor it.  We will value it.  We will reach out to it so that it can bring us closer together, regardless of whether or not someone says “less” when he or she meant “fewer.” 

And if you show up here with your judgment and superiority, we will fight you with Tommy guns loaded with self-acceptance and tolerance.  We will bootleg compassionate curiosity.  We will beat clever metaphors to death. 

Consider yourself warned. 

Just know that we are out here, waiting on you to out yourself at a party when someone says “irregardless.”  We won’t take kindly to your grammatical suggestions.  We will stand up for everyone who has ever made a silly mistake because they were caught up in the story. 

And (in the Godfather voice, lightly scratching our chins) we just might make you an offer you can’t refuse. 

Seriously yours,
Diane “Bugsy” Whiddon
Head of the Denver Outfit
The Grammar Mafia

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28 Responses to “A Note from the Grammar Mafia”

  1. I love the idea of the Grammar Mafia!

    I grew up in a “grammatically strict” household, and needless corrections of the sort you describe drive me crazy. You are not alone :-)

    I think Lewis Carroll summed it up quite well: “Take care of the sounds, and the sense will take care of themselves.”

    Ezra Brooks’s last blog post..Jazz Cooking in America

  2. Amen!

    “Did you not understand what I meant? You did? Why the hell did you correct me? To prove you were right and I was wrong? To make me feel like an idiot? Nice.”

    There’s nothing but ego in correcting people. And there’s nothing more sweet than when someone catches herself in a mistake and you say, “It’s okay, I knew what you meant, I’m following what you’re saying.”

    Julianna’s last blog post..EPIC? Me? Go on. Really?

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    Ezra – Yes, the needless corrections (and so many of them are needless) drive me batty. And I love that quote!

    Julianna – Right?! I totally agree. It is nice to meet someone else who cares more about the story than the syntax.

  4. Jumping up and down. I’m so joining this mafia. It’s needed, it really, really is.

    What makes me laugh is that no two grammar nazis ever agree with each other. They just sit there and argue the toss over trivial points and in the end you have to sigh and walk away.

    Joely Black’s last blog post..And while I’m at it, I should stop giving myself such a hard time

  5. THANK YOU. Yes, yes, yes.

    So, I’m creative and take mucho liberties with these word things. Yes to the essence, intention, and energy being important. Count me in the posse.

    Christine Martell’s last blog post..Slithering along with change

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    Joely – That’s so true! I’ve seen that, too. That’s why we’ll be able to take them down–dissention in the ranks. ;)

    Christine – Creative spirits and mucho liberties are always welcome here. ;) Welcome to the posse.

  7. I’m with Joely. Calling them the Grammar Police is way to nice. Grammar Nazi’s is good. Grammar Fascists has been used before.

    And why does being a writer make you someone who should care about grammar? Copy editors care about grammar. Writers overwhelmingly care about story.

    JoVE’s last blog post..If I knew then… #2: Publishing in the wrong places

  8. Oh, and I just noticed I used the wrong to/too/two. That was not intentional but nicely ironic

    JoVE’s last blog post..If I knew then… #2: Publishing in the wrong places

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    JoVE – “Writers overwhelmingly care about story.” Yes! You’re so right. How much do you rock?

    And the “Grammar Fascists” and the “to/too/two” ironic parts are cracking me up.

  10. Jove is so right. Honestly, if all you care about is the perfection of the grammar you can pretty much bet that the story both sucks and blows. And that’s not even anatomically possible.

    Joely Black’s last blog post..And while I’m at it, I should stop giving myself such a hard time

  11. Is there any kind of detox centre or help for the Police? I recognise a little of myself there and could do with help overcoming these strange urges.

    I hereby pledge from this moment on to keep grammatical minutiae to myself and curb all spelling corrections unless asked for explicitly. It really does come from a weak part of me.

    - A former cop looking to join the Mafia

    James | Dancing Geek’s last blog post..Spring is in the air, epiphanies are in the brain

  12. logo icon
    Joely – you totally crack me up, as usual.

    James – Absolutely, Officer. We have a special program just for recovering Grammarians. We’ll even forgive you if you slip up and correct us from time to time. Welcome aboard. :)

  13. Oh yes! The key word in your whole tirade is “Jackass”! There are a lot of jealous, unsuccessful, no-it-all “Jackasses” in this world–and I intend to either avoid or ignore each and every one of them, unless of course it is my editor :) lol Bless your heart Diane, and I (unabashedly) shall carry the torch of the Grammar Mafia!

  14. Thank you. I used to know when and where to use a comma, an em dash, and how not to end a sentence with a preposition. In blogging, I don’t care. I can’t care. It’s more like talking, for me anyway.

    I read formal blogs and informal ones. I envy journalists their editors. But I am my editor and she’s getting a little forgetful. Taking the time to search “Online english grammar” takes the wind out of my sails.

    And to think I used to police my kids (poor dears) so they wouldn’t be embarrassed someday by the grammar police.

    Diana’s last blog post..Volcano Love Song

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    Justin – lol. Yes, I suppose we have to let our editors get away with it. :) Welcome to the posse!

    Diana – Yes! Blogs are just conversation, and I realized that if I was worried about perfectly editing all my posts, I’d never get any written, and I’d probably suck all the life out of them anyway.

    No one is ever going to tell us, “Oh, I just loved reading your blog. The writing and subject matter were actually kind of dull, but …oh, the grammar! The grammar and punctuation were sublime!”

  16. I would rather read something breathlessly realistic, than something grammatically perfect. And JoVE is right, that’s what editors are for, damn it. We can’t be everything.

    I wonder how many of those godawful serial correctionists have written a moving tale. I doubt it. I suspect they are the linguistic equivalent of people that are terrible at making love because they are afraid of what other sounds they may make.

    Emma Newman’s last blog post..Grounds for divorce?

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    Emma – Absolutely! Realism and heart get me every time. Accurate pronouns…not so much.

    And “terrible at making love because they are afraid of what other sounds they may make” rocks my world. Here’s to unabashed, raucous, passionate snorts and grunts! :)

  18. I’m willing to join James’ group if he promises that it won’t be a 12-step program. I’ve been practicing biting my tongue and keeping it in my head but the following things my friends do regularly make me squirm (I hope not visibly)

    could/would/should of (instead of could’ve…)

    have went

    And I routinely correct less/fewer confusion in my own child. Who is 11 and needs to be exposed to a little policing :-)

    JoVE’s last blog post..One thing at a time?

  19. logo icon
    JoVE – Okay, I have to come clean here…the could of’s, should of’s and would of’s drive me batty, too. Especially when I see them in a published book.

    I’m not kidding. It was a small press, but still.

    And I should also say for the record that you’re right about correcting your little one. They need the teaching and guidance. Learning the importance of using words and language correctly at home will serve them well in their future. You’re right, the wee ones do need a little “policing.” :)

  20. I really liked reading this post. I have this unusual phrase that I find myself using. I believe it comes from watching movies like Ann Sothern’s Maisie where you have broads and gals
    anyway I did not notice that I was even using this language until a friend of mine pointed it out. And me being a writer she thought I should know better. So I decided that, no matter how wrong, I though it was cute enough to keep.


    Juanita’s last blog post..#Google #Naked #Saturdays – The Rules

  21. I thought of you and the fellow mafiosi today.

    Program and programme.

    That is all.

    Emma Newman’s last blog post..Dear scared bit,

  22. This is what I hate about my day job as a technical editor. You see, I HAVE to be a part of the “grammar police”, it’s my job.

    But then again, it’s also what I LOVE about blogging. I can disregard the rules whenever I feel like it, and if I am unsure of the rule, I don’t spend hours looking it up. I love the freedom to just communicate, without having to worry about whether I am doing it “correctly” or not.

    Jay Schryer’s last blog post..Life is a Raging River

  23. You’ve described my mother-in-law here. I’m the writer, but she’s the one who corrects everyone’s grammar. She found a typo in a published story I wrote–my first published story–and didn’t bother to compliment the story. She only pointed out the mistake. (Which happened to be correct in my submitted version.)

    “Your primary goal isn’t to improve the communication at all. It’s to assert your own superiority and draw attention to yourself.”

    Yep, that’s her.

  24. Count me in! My daughter brought home her journal from school one day. It was filled with red marks from her teacher.
    I calmly called the teacher up and asked her not to correct my daughters personal journal anymore. I realized my daughters spelling was (and still is) totally atrocious but correcting her journal was destroying her creativity. If she wanted something to correct, then ask my daughter to write an assignment and THEN correct it.
    My daughter used to journal and write prolifically but some friends of hers got into her writing and she hasn’t written since. I almost cry when I think of it.

  25. logo icon
    Juanita - Absolutely cute enough to keep! We get to choose how we express ourselves. Every time. Period. Good for you.

    Emma - ;)

    Jay - Yes! The freedom is lovely. We get to come here to the blogosphere and just talk. Big fun.

    A Writer – We have the same mother-in-law?! ;) And congrats on having a published story. That’s awesome.

    Maureen - Welcome! And you’re absolutely right–a journal is NO place for censorship of any kind, even if it’s with the intent to teach. That’s exactly the kind of event that has stifled so many bright and creative writers out there. Urge her to write when she’ll let you. Story and creativity are everything. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are for editors, not writers.

  26. I want to be a founding member of the Central Florida Grammar Mafia family! Just a delightful post, made me laugh outloud (or should that be “aloud”??) in the restaurant. Thanks for being so giving with your humorous perspective, D!

  27. logo icon
    Sara – Yay! We always need more recruits! Welcome aboard. :)

  28. If anyone criticizes you for beginning a sentence with the word “and,” they are wrong! There’s nothing wrong with doing this. Here is a quote from Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose (a wonderful and useful book, by the way).

    “A-student types who memorized everything their English teachers said insist that coordinating conjunctions [such as but, and, or] cannot begin sentences. If editors ever try to feed you such wrongheadedness, throw [this] gem their way: And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. (the Old Testament.)”

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