grammar pedants, language, and stephen fry
Stephen Fry has a message for pedants who crawl through many a blog’s comment threads.
What’s one of the most frustrating things about blogging? No, not just science blogging, but any and all efforts to write articles and posts? It’s not the debates or the fights in the comments. In fact, having those occasional scraps in the comment threads can keep a blog fun and entertaining because by far the most boring and the most tedious things to read on the web are echo chambers where everyone agrees with one another on every possible topic. No, one of the most frustrating things about blogging is the Grammar Nazis, the pedants who seem to be far more interested in proofreading your work, carefully pointing out every grammatical error, typo, or improperly placed comma than in actually engaging with the content that post is trying to convey. And if you are that kind of living copyeditor who values mechanics over meaning, Stephen Fry has a few words for you…
Just a decade ago, writers often had as long as a week to compose, edit and proofread an article before they sent it to editors who scrutinized it even further. Today, these days seem very, very far away. With shorter and shorter deadlines, fewer and fewer copyeditors, and increasingly popular blogs often ran by one person, this focus on making sure that every single element of language has been hammered into it’s supposedly proper place, has been replaced with a focus on getting the content ready and posted. And inevitably, you’ll notice the increase in the occasional typo as fewer and fewer people check the grammar and spelling, and that quite a few old words have acquired new meanings because like Mr. Fry points out, languages evolve over time. Yes, those of us who write professionally do have an obligation to make sure our grammar and spelling are up to par, and yes, I will correct typos when I notice them, and I do appreciate when an obvious typo I missed when proofreading a new post at some hideous hour has gone unnoticed, is pointed out to me.
But, and this is very, very important here, if you’re the kind of person who’ll notice typos or misused words and post an indignant comment about being unable to read anything by someone who wrote “who’s,” not “whose” while growiling about a run on sentence, you may be better off reading a dictionary rather than books or blog posts. Humans make mistakes and the languages they use mutate over decades. So when you moan about the downfall of proper grammar and spelling in the last five decades, missing all the things said in countless paragraphs and pages between misspellings and typos, while you whine about the mechanics as you fail to even try and engage the content, you become less of a grammarian or a scholar of language, and more of a heckler from the crowd, chastising someone for wearing a brown belt with black shoes while the crowd itself is busy debating science, culture, politics, and art. That doesn’t illustrate educational accomplishment or wit, but a focus on details and formalism that blinds you to big, important, and fun discussions all around you.
[ story tip via Phil Plait ]