why i retired from the grammar police

I used to be one of them.

If I read an article with a typo, I would scoff. “Someone needs a proofreader,” I’d call out to everyone within earshot, so proud of my catch.”This is so unprofessional.”

And then three things happened.

1. I became an editor. And it’s not actually that easy.

As copywriter at a non-profit, I’m also entrusted with editing basically every piece of copy the organization puts out. Which is fine. As a former member of the grammar police (and a lifelong reader), errors just pop out at me. Proofreading something is almost fun, kind of like a treasure hunt. (I am so fun.)

But the problem is, it’s never just one something. It’s an article that I wrote and, in the process of editing, read ten times. Then someone else changed the content, so I needed to read and edit it again. This happened five more times. By the twentieth time reading something, it’s impossible to actually read something. You’re skimming. On top of that, it’s never the only thing on my desk to edit. Somewhere in that mess, I’m going to miss an errant apostrophe — and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

2. I realized the smartest person I know can’t spell.

Y is basically the smartest person I know. He can solve any problem, remember any fact, and debate academically on topics he knows nothing about. But grammar and spelling aren’t his strong suit.

The reason spelling and grammar come naturally to me isn’t because I’m smarter than anyone else. (I’m definitely not.) It’s because, as an only child and semi-nerd, I spent a lot of my childhood reading. Eventually, my brain learned patterns, and it now automatically pops up a red flag when it sees a word spelled wrong, because it’s probably seen that word spelled correctly in 100+  Babysitters Club books, the entire Goosebumps series, and the thousands of other books I’ve read in my life.

On the flip side, I don’t watch a lot of movies or TV. Often, I’ve only seen a word and have no idea how to pronounce it. I’ve definitely been mocked for mispronouncing a word — which is far more embarrassing than misspelling a word.

3. I started reading comments.

Don’t ask me why I started doing this –it’s bad for my health — but anytime I read an online article or blog post, I continue scrolling down and read the comments until I’m ready to renounce my humanity. The comments section (on most sites) are where the saddest people in the world hang out, and the grammar police are some of the worst offenders. Here’s a mock conversation that might happen in the comments of, let’s, say, a house tour on a design blog:

Person A: Why are all kitchens white these days? It’s so boring! Why can’t people be more creative? Everyone is just controlled by Pinterest these days. I hate this blog.

Person B: Um, I’ve had a white kithen since WAY before Pinterest. Some people just like white, and if you don’t like this post, you should just go read another blog.

Person C: Nice try, idiot, it’s KITCHEN. Maybe learn how to spell the name of the room before you try to comment on a DESIGN blog.

There are a few cases where I still roll my eyes — a billboard for a respected company has just six words on the sign and one of them is spelled wrong; people adding apostrophes to pluralize words; a few other random pet peeves — but for the most part, I’ve turned in my badge. And I have to say I think I’m happier for it.

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13 thoughts on “why i retired from the grammar police

  1. Ha! I recently corrected a “their, there, they're” offender who commented on a City Pages article. But they deserved it because they were calling out the author for misspelling a word in their article. I felt better after doing so. And then the link to the article got deleted. I also called my sister out for her holier-than-thou grammar snob attitude on her match.com profile. So I guess I go both ways. Or something?

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  2. I love this – and as an editor, I'd say you're so right about #1. We try, but there are just going to be little things that slip through the cracks when you're dealing with revisions or multiple projects or your one-millionth read-through (or maybe I just say that so I feel better when I accidentally miss things). What I scoff at now is more about laziness than typos – like the nanny candidates who used texting-type abbreviations in their written cover letters to me. PUH-LEASE.

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  3. “Y is basically the smartest person I know. He can solve any problem, remember any fact, and debate academically on topics he knows nothing about. But grammar and spelling aren't his strong suit.” this is my husband to a T (in fact, he is a high school debate team alum and uber smarty pants). He even has me proof read his emails to important people…he knows how bad it is. Apparently, in real life his spelling doesn't affect his ability to perform CPR so he's doing just fine. 🙂

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  4. I'm….semi-retired? The errors still drive me crazy, but I can never get up the urge to call someone out on it. The word-mixing though…that drives me insane (when people say they were so upset that they “balled” all night, or that their interest is “peaked”).

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  5. I'm still a full-blown member of the grammar police, & I sometimes even correct people on pronunciation [which I've been told is not very becoming]. BUT – when I was working at the newspaper, fresh out of college, part of my job included being a proofer, & I can fully back you up on the fact that when you have a lot to read, & when you have to read it multiple times, it's impossible to catch every little mistake. I definitely missed quite a few in my time there.

    And I definitely just included a run-on sentence in this grammar-focused comment. I guess the rules are meant to be broken?

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  6. I could have written this. I am also an editor and while mistakes still just jump out at me, I never correct people. I think it's rude and know I would hate it if people did it to me, aaaaand I also know how easy it is for something to slip by after a full day of staring at scientific research papers.

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  7. I developed my grammar/spelling skills the same way–reading constantly as a child. However, I also have the problem of not knowing how to actually say words I know, and I've been embarrassed over it one too many times.

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  8. I'm not sure I could ever turn in my badge. I feel like it's too engrained in me. But the one thing that DOES make me consider it is when I catch my own horrific typos on my own blog. Ouch.

    There are so many words I can spell but can't pronounce. I'm really glad I'm not alone in that!

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  9. My husband has probably read 30,000 books in his lifetime, and to this day, we have many discussions about how words are pronounced. His vocabulary is out of this world, but sometimes you have to listen carefully to understand what he's actually saying. I, on the other hand, have a hard time reading for content, because I am so zoned in on the grammar and structure used to create that content. It's a curse.

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  10. And then I realized my comment had a grammatical error… hahaha. What I wanted to say was a billboard for Acme Oyster House said something like “Now serving ice, cold oysters!” I'm so glad I can get some ice at Acme!

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