What’s so “proper” about grammar anyway?

It might seem strange for me to worry about being a grammar Nazi. As a writer, I spend much of my time working with words on paper. It is important to me that they flow as smooth as possible.

I realized, after I decided to write, that my grammar skills were lacking. It wasn’t that they weren’t pretty good, but they weren’t of the level that I expected. There were too many mistakes. Truth to tell, there are still way too many mistakes. The point is that my grammar was passable, and I wanted to be capable of writing something that wouldn’t stand out as amateurish.

Even to this day, when  I have trouble writing, one of the things that I like do to make myself happy is to study grammar. While I still haven’t achieved the level of expertise I would like on comma placement, semicolon use, who vs whom, and a slew of other grammar niceties, I still try to improve my grammar so it will more easily appeal to people who might read it.

But what is it that makes my grammar “correct”?

Melissa A. Fabello has an article at Everyday Feminism titled “Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement.” From the article:

Prescriptive grammar – which is what “grammar snobs” champion – says that there’s such a thing as one true, honest, pure form of a language and that only that version is correct or acceptable.

Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, argues that however a language is being used to communicate effectively is correct – because that is the basic purpose of language.

For me as a writer, this begs the question of who is my intended audience? And that is a fine question to ask yourself as a writer. But if I use my knowledge of language — no matter how incomplete it might be — to feel superior to someone else, I do us both a disservice. If that were to happen, I would have exchanged the intent of the message into a critique of the language.

I have been working diligently to put in the effort to understand someone’s argument and, if I disagree with it, give a clear reason for my disagreement instead of just complaining about their grammar.

I think this makes me a better person. What do you think? Is there any grammar that is so atrocious that you give up trying to understand the point? Does it seem possible to infer something about someone from the way they use grammar? Have you ever felt belittled or dismissed because you made a grammar mistake?

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Marisa

I am a writer of words, a thinker of thoughts, a changer of genders, and a queerer of life. I am an antagonist of the ordinary; and while I do tolerate it, I also look at it with contempt.

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