The Big Issue : Edition 477
THEBIGISSUE6–19FEB2015 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH DO GRAMMAR STICKLERS HAVE A SUPERIORITY COMPLEX? Word Warsother dude who went for ‘Regret Nohing’. Or the buffed other dude with ‘I’m Awsome’ across his back. Or the young woman displaying her lower back, tattooed with the words ‘Sweet Pee’. Where’s the empathy? Are we saying to ourselves, Oh no, poor man, he probably has dyslexia, which is why he’s written ‘My Mother Is An Angle’ on his shoulderblade. No. We’re thinking, You cretin, ahahahaha. Being able to spell and punctuate is key, as illustrated by the above, but knowing where to stick your colon doesn’t make you a better person. And making fun of folk who don’t have the same educational advantages or brain wiring, is, well, hardly fair. I remember once dumping a guy after he sent me a text that read “More and more your everything I need”. Oh, not immediately. But that message essentially killed my burgeoning interest. Was I superficial? Maybe. Am I the only one? Not by the longest of shots, sunshine. Research undertaken by the dating website OkCupid, found the biggest turn-offs for potential romantic partners were Netspeak, bad grammar and bad spelling. A lot of us have conflated good punctuation with moral hygiene, and see poor spelling as proof that someone is stupid or lazy. I seem to remember that kind of argument, not so long ago, being advanced about every race and class other than the ruling white one. Retro might be in, but shaming people for not meeting our benchmarks is a) mean-spirited and b) counterproductive. Nobody responds well to eye- rolling and being accused of having the mental capacity of a vitamin-deprived Labrador. Being literate is great. I love it. Lonely children have to make their own fun, and books were my friends when I was sorely short of real-life company. There are many of us who found refuge in words, who curled up inside a good read, and we are fiercely protective of language as a result. Reading almost anything online, even ‘quality’ press, feels like stepping on a linguistic rake some days. But literacy doesn’t make us superior, it makes us fortunate. So at ease, soldier. We’re not at war. I’D BE LYING if I said I didn’t enjoy being a Grammar Nazi. On the one hand, there’s my borderline erotic relationship with words. Lubricious, anyone? On the other, you can find me wandering around a market, casually spitting on my thumb and rubbing errant apostrophes off blackboards. Good times. I inwardly tut as I spy another ‘orange’s’ or ‘potatoe’s’. The orange’s what? I wonder, led whimsically down the philosophical path of contemplating what an orange could possess. There’s a lot of us out there, judging by the many likes on ‘Weird Al’ Jankovic’s deliciously pedantic song parody, ‘Word Crimes’. Hordes of us, basking in a righteous glow as we police the internet, correcting the multitudes who can’t tell their ‘they’re’ from their ‘there’. We are doing Good Work. And, look, using ‘loose’ when you mean ‘lose’ makes us want to club you to death with a dictionary. What, we think, is the frigging matter with you people? It can often feel like we’re at war. The remaining handful of elders who retain the ancient wisdom, standing guard against a torrent of chaos and ignorance. Linguistically these feel like the end times, where people think a dangling modifier is something you put into a search engine to find porn. We are Braveheart, crying “Hold”. We are Yoda, warning against the dark side. We are Gandalf, blocking the narrow, flaming bridge, saying, “You. Shall. Not. Pass”. And we fight determinedly, desperately, hacking away at deformed grammar as it proliferates, throttlingly, all around us like fat jungle vines fertilised with human blood and bone. To the death! Unfortunately for our heroic internal narrative, we Grammar Nazis are not as noble as we think. The cause itself is unarguably crucial, particularly now that newspaper subediting is being outsourced to the Philippines (true), but our attitude sucks. Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused being ‘correct’ with being ‘superior’. It’s possibly payback for being bookish and ostracised at school. It’s partly because we are outnumbered 10 to one by people who fear apostrophes and insert them randomly with their eyes closed. Whatever the reason, it’s socially acceptable to mock the less literate. It’s so easy to judge, when we sit tall in the saddle of our high horses, and google, for example, ‘badly spelt tattoos’. Because nothing is more hilarious than the unfortunate dude who has inked ‘Live Without Regets’ on his forearm. Or the » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.