I encountered another Grammar Cop yesterday while checking out my favorite sci-fi fan site. In typical form, the GC showed up and pointed out a failure to punctuate. When others jumped to the commenter’s defense, the GC answered, “I point out errors to help people, because I would want others to correct my mistakes. If I’m doing something incorrectly, I want to know so I can improve.”
I wrote the following letter for that person, and for all other Grammar Cops out there in Internet Land.
OPEN LETTER TO A GRAMMAR COP
Dear Grammar Cop,
Yesterday, you interrupted a relaxed online conversation to correct the punctuation of a stranger, and spoiled everyone’s fun. It wasn’t the first time. This is what you do. You defended your choice by saying that if you were doing something incorrectly, you would want to know, so you could improve. Now I’m telling you, so you can improve. Socially, you are doing something incorrectly. You are being rude.
Not everyone using the Internet is as hyper-focused as you. Some of us are sleepy, battling illness or pain, or distracted by real life. Some are communicating in a non-native language. Some are children. And some are very fragile souls, too shy to defend themselves. Your desire to show off what you remember from high school English class does not outweigh their right to interact online without unwarranted criticism.
Your rude remarks–whether meant to harm or to help–create an emotionally unsafe environment. Some people actually apologize for misspellings and incorrect verb tenses, as if failing to write a perfect sentence were an actual crime. How many people delete their comments because of embarrassment, or don’t express themselves at all, because they’re unsure of the correct use of a word, and afraid of Grammar Cops?
I’m a copy editor and proofreader. I get paid to correct grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and typos for some very talented and well-educated authors, because they make mistakes. We all do. Only God is perfect.
I see your mistakes, too. I just don’t tell you, because that would be unkind and unnecessary. You will be judged in the same manner that you judge others. Do you really want your every utterance examined under a magnifying glass? Do you want unsolicited, negative remarks about your words? When you point out the errors of online commenters, you create an online comment just begging to be scrutinized.
If only you could use your power for good. Finding errors is fun. I get that. That’s why I got into editing in the first place. Don’t give up proofreading. Instead of taking jabs at strangers, though, try my solution: Read. Read printed newspapers, magazines, and books, with a pen in hand. If you’re diligent, you will find errors in even best-selling novels. Circle those errors. Keep a collection. Show your friends. (Don’t write to tell the authors!)
Buy current style guides and brush up on the latest rules. Learn the differences between styles. Learn proofreader’s marks, and mark stuff up. If you stay up-to-date, and can rein in your attitude, you might even get into proofreading as a profession. But leave Internet commenters alone.
A Polite Grammar Freak
Are you a Grammar Cop? What is your response when you encounter one?
Kathryn A. Frazier is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her beloved family, Scruffy Dog and Valentino the Ridiculously Tiny Dog. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.
I would like to point out that your Grammar Cop made a mistake in the sentence”I point out errors to help people, because I would want others to correct my mistakes.” There should be no comma before the dependent clause. Hey, I’m just pointing out your mistakes to help you.:D
Okay, there should be a comma after the word “sentence.” I can’t get back in to edit my own reply. This could go on forever!
And that’s what I meant by, “When you point out the errors of online commenters, you create an online comment just begging to be scrutinized.” How ironic that she made a punctuation error in a comment pointing out someone else’s punctuation error.