I suffer from an affliction shared by many other writers. (Apart from caffeine addiction, procrastination and thinking about plots while driving and missing my exit). I am a grammar Nazi. And under that umbrella I also place misspelling and erroneous punctuation. Repeat after me please. They’re drinking their coffee over there.
Wanted: man with good grammar
I’m such a correct English tragic that many years ago when I was dabbling in internet dating, if a man had spelling or grammar mistakes in his profile, he was immediately struck off my list of potential suitors. I could see that my compulsion to correct his errors, especially in a moment of passion, might prove to be a stumbling block to a relationship that lasts longer than dinner. ‘No, Henry, it’s not, “Why don’t you and me retire to the bedroom?” It’s “you and I.”’
One of the most common mistakes I see is the misspelling of there when it’s supposed to be their and vice versa. But there’s also then instead of than, your instead of you’re, to instead of too, weather instead of whether – I could go on and on (and on and on…) Predictive text on mobile devices may be partly responsible, but the responsibility ultimately lies with the human at the other end. I always check what I’ve written for errors before I email it or post it on a site.
Social media is partly 2 blame
I know that with the advent of instant communication, language has become more casual and I have no truck with that. I use abbreviated words myself when sending text messages to family or friends. U r instead of you are etc.
And while you could argue that it doesn’t matter so much on social media because much of that conversation is casual, if you’re used to posting ungrammatical stuff, it becomes so much harder to get out of that habit when you’re writing professionally, and a lot of people don’t bother to differentiate.
But I don’t think there’s any reason for poor grammar and spelling to be acceptable, and what really makes me grit my teeth is poor English in the public and professional sphere. I’ve seen a lot of misspelling on business websites (and some are authors or in writing-related businesses) and I have often contacted them and informed them of it – in a friendly manner.
They usually thank me, but whether they bother to fix the errors, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s obvious that English is not their first language, and in that case I would hope they’d be happy that someone had taken the time to point out their mistakes.
I guess the bottom line is, how important is it? Would you refuse to buy a product or service because of spelling or grammatical errors on the company’s website, signage or other promotional material? In my case, probably not, unless it was a business that was writing-related, such as copy-editing or report writing. However, I still don’t think it’s a reason for errors to be shrugged off as irrelevant.
The worst mistake of all, the one that makes me want to scream, is the errant apostrophe. Apostrophes in plurals are so common I don’t even bother commenting on them. I just mentally roll my eyes, as a fellow grammar Nazi puts it.
Fruit and vegetable shop vendors seem particularly susceptible. Banana’s on sale. Fresh local cabbage’s. And also those in authority. Violator’s will be towed. No Dog’s Allowed. And what about this one? No Drink’s Allowed in Shop. Thank’s. A double whammy.
Another very common error is using an apostrophe in ‘its’ when it’s the possessive, such as Every dog has it’s day.
It seems as if a lot of people subscribe to the Blanket Apostrophe Rule – when in doubt, whack it in. In a recent article in the Week-end Australian, columnist Stephen Romei asked readers to send in examples of the misplaced apostrophe and other ‘grammatical gherkins.’
(I am at a loss as to why he chose gherkins for his metaphor, but as I don’t like them, it works for me).
There are some amusing responses, but my favourite is the article’s illustration, from a railway waiting room in Tasmania.
Please place wet umberella’s here.
Another delightful double doozy. The same people might also write, Beware of burgulars or Perculated coffee sold here.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
But while I’m doing my old codger act, moaning about the low standard of today’s spelling and grammar, (not like when I went to school and had to parse sentences, learning the title and function of every word), a grammar vigilante in England is taking action on this serious issue, which threatens to shake the very foundations of modern society.
This caped crusader creeps around the streets of Bristol in the dead of night with a long-handled tool he calls the ‘apostrophiser,’ which he created especially to correct rogue apostrophes on signs by placing stickers over them. The man, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told the BBC, 'I do think it is a cause worth pursuing. I have felt extremely nervous and the heart has been thumping.’ He maintains he has not committed any crime. ‘It’s more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first place.’
Move over, Avengers, there’s a new superhero in town - Apostrophe Man, courageously fighting a single-handed battle against the scourge of this deceptively innocuous-looking dot with a tail. Why stop at Bristol? The world needs you! I can only hope that Apostrophe Man finds a way to clone himself so we can banish the Evil Errant Apostrophe for once and for all to Punctuation Purgatory.
What about you? Do you have any bloopers or gripes you'd like to share? I'd love you to join in the conversation in the comments box below.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.