Has a grammar Nazi ever attacked you?  I’m talking about the personal friend, stranger, child, etc., that corrected your grammar while or after you were speaking.  And how did you feel about that?  Grateful?  Embarrassed? Insulted?  Miffed, would be my response. Nothing is more irritating than a “smart -A” kid, who has just learned “proper” grammar,  correcting an adult.  The child should have learned respect for adults first.   Though an English teacher, I   would never correct someone in a purely social situation.  I might correct my child or husband or someone I cared about who I feared would harm a career or social position if the habit persisted, and even then, only privately.  In everyday conversation, I’ve certainly ignored formal rules in speaking or simply didn’t stop  speaking to work out the subtleties of grammar.   Sometimes I’ve made “mistakes” deliberately.   Grammar Nazis exemplify the old saying, ” A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  They think one way suits all situations. Not so.

In studying English language in more depth, I came to realize that there is not just one manner of speaking, and even writing,  appropriate to all occasions.   We have all sorts of regional and social dialects that fit different situations, and in my opinion, make language much more interesting.  The most skilled user of language can adapt to fit the situation appropriately.   Writers of fiction, especially must develop an ear for the spoken word.  In the preface to Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain made note of the number of dialects he had used.   Of course, a person who wants to indicate  an education, should definitely learn both formal and informal standard English because these are expected in certain situations (and the informal is always safe in conversation).    For that reason, these are stressed in school and teachers are expected to correct students, especially in written work or public speaking.

On the other hand, the country singer and the rock-n-roll artist who “ain’t got no lovin'” is fitting the style.  And songwriters break rules all the time in order to create rhyme  or a common touch to the words.  That’s poetic license.  The star athlete in an interview who says “axe” for  “asked” obviously hasn’t  found it necessary to drop a learned pronunciation in order to be successful in sports but may need to change if a sports announcing career is desired.

Spoken language is continually changing, though the formal  written language changes quite slowly because it is essentially a “frozen” dialect taught in school.  The origin of “ain’t”  show that at one time it was a perfectly acceptable contraction for “am not” until someone with authority decided it was not.  “Aren’t I” still seems awkward, doesn’t it?    My parents said “it don’t” and “punkin'”for pumpkin, etc. but they didn’t ruin my education.  What counted was that they loved me.

So, all you grammar Nazis,  remember  in social situations to consider the person’s character as more important that his or her speech .  Save the criticism for yourself or, if you must correct someone, do it in private and with kindness.

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