John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New frontiers in peevology

The New York Times reported yesterday on the emergence of a vigilante movement on Twitter:
A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them — tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.
If you thought that I, Cranky Old Guy, Once and Future Editor, would endorse this phenomenon, you were mistaken. One of the charms of Twitter, to the extent that it does charm, is the freewheeling informality and colloquial inventiveness. Leave it alone.

More than that, however, I worry about the people who are making these needless corrections, no doubt taking valuable time away from marking up restaurant menus and supermarket signage, or correcting people’s grammar and pronunciation in conversation. (How’s that going for you, anyhow? Are you starting to get invitations to the parties at the Popular Kids’ houses?)

There ought to be higher aspirations than becoming a common scold.

And still more, there is the recurring tendency among peevers to denounce things that are either not wrong or of minuscule significance. Professor Mark Liberman observes at Language Log that “complaints about spelling, grammar, and capitalization are merged ... with a wide range of other individual, cultural, and political criticisms,” which he finds consonant with his post in 2007 about the degree to which published complaints about grammar and usage demonstrate a combination of “social annoyance” and “public griping.” He suggests that someone could get scholarly cred* by demonstrating how frequently these corrections are themselves in error.

If you must whinge, why not direct your attention to publications that are still supposedly edited, such as The Washington Post, which published this passage forwarded by one of my many spies:
His switch comes as former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) — once considered the longest of shots to defeat the popular governor — has rode [emphasis added] a wave of adoration from conservatives nationally to not only catch but pass Crist in polling.


*This nonce word annoy you? Hard cheddar.




7 comments:

  1. I tried to tweet but found the going slow because I'm not all thumbs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It would be nice if we could all agree to write in English.

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  3. "Cred" doesn't annoy me (in fact, I rather like it), but "has rode" surely does.

    Note to other English teachers who read this blog: Why, oh why, did some of you quit teaching grammar?

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  4. "complaints about spelling, grammar, and capitalization are merged ... with a wide range of other individual, cultural, and political criticisms"

    Kind of like this?
    http://johnemcintyre.blogspot.com/2010/03/dont-mock-afflicted.html

    Hey, sometimes they just BEG for it!

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  5. There is no cure for the common scold.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In Montreal, a local news outlet published a story about a drug bust with the following lede:

    "Police in Laval are still on the scene of drug bust on St-Francis in Chateauguay."

    Laval is nowhere near Chateauguay, so I'm still left wondering what was meant! I couldn't resist the temptation to point it out to the news director.

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  7. When people gripe about Twitter, and texting, etc., I always wonder, "have they no sense of humor?"

    Words like "cred" are *FUN*!

    Words should be fun. We should play with them, make jokes with them, twist them sideways sometimes.

    I think the scolds are afraid, or something--afraid that if they play around, people will insist that they aren't allowed to then be serious and formal later. They seem incredibly one dimensional--the idea that there are many ways to do things, and some are appropriate in places others are not, is just not something they can actually accept.

    Fundamentalism at its least fulfilling.

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