White People and Grammar

Stuff White People Like has finally added grammar to its exhaustive catalog of priveleged liberal shibboleths.    Unfortunately they’ve completely missed the point of why white people love grammar.

White people love grammar because they enhabit a world in which there is no one defining attribute separating them from what the site calls ‘the bad kind of white people’.  They are a completely self-defined class of people  That means that they must gird their society with mental bulkheads and lock themselves behind them.  Good grammar is the last vestige of the old education system which once taught proper ways to do a lot of things.  It’s the last bastion of objective truth in a completely relativistic world, something that people can say for sure is right when the rest of it all is up for interpretation.    You can dress however you want, eat whatever you want, act however you want despite your education or income level but having good grammar is perceived to the the last true tip-off of where you stand in society.

That’s why I’ve always sensed a certain desperate social-climbiness in grammar ghouls who troll for semicolons and misplaced apostrophes.  It’s the patina of education that bespeaks true ignorance.  I liken it to my Korean students who quibble about the pronunciation of the word ‘the’ (thuh or thee?) but can’t actually speak English.  This is likely why there are so many urban legends about language, because there is a demand for factoids about language.  Here’s a list of some of the stupidest factoids about grammar and langauge that make the people who cite them feel great and the victims feel abashed.  The best one, and the most ridiculous in my estimation, is the claim that the word ‘hopefully’ is ungrammatical in sentences like ‘Hopefully John’s having a good time,’ because it means ‘full of hope’, and the intention of the sentence isn’t to imply that John is full of hope.

To sum up, white people (ie human beings) would like to appear as smart as they possibly can.

~ by Joshing on May 13, 2008.

8 Responses to “White People and Grammar”

  1. Some people love the refuge of correct grammar because they desire some symbol of their own worthiness and high position in society. But others actually find language to be beautiful and its clarity and precision godly. Those people despise poor grammar because it leads toward death. They want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, and in perfect grammar.

    I can’t help but point out that one of the reasons I read your blog is because it is so beautifully written. I think you’re one of the latter kind of grammar lovers, but I do think you love grammar.

  2. I may love grammar, but I would never use someone else’s ignorance of it to ridicule. That, to me, is a supremely unclassy move.

  3. A convention or tradition is only as good as it is useful. I strive to practice that line of thought. That said, grammar is extremely useful. I am amazed at how many people cannot write a short paragraph without screwing up there/their/they’re, its/it’s or your/you’re. I am not a Nazi about it. Really, I’m pretty lax (feel free to point out all of my mistakes in this comment). When it gets this bad though it impedes communication, which is the primary reason for language in the first place.

    Also, bad grammar is many times just laziness. My issue with “ATM machine” or “there/their” is that people don’t think about what they are writing or saying.

    Calling someone on misusing a semicolon is pedantic. Not being able to go one sentence without using a word incorrectly does make it harder to understand your words. I think this does say something about someone’s intelligence and work ethic.

  4. I like Jeff’s distinction between pedantry and effective communication. It makes me clench my teeth when people (consistently) misuse their/there and your/you’re in their writing but I couldn’t care less if people say “could care less” or “couldn’t care less”. I don’t mind the latter because there have been fewer opportunities for people to learn these distinctions – which are often debatable and rather obscure anyway. I feel that every English speaker should know basic pronouns – but should not be necessarily be expected to know, for example, that prepositions are acceptable at the end of a sentence only if they have an object. Or whatever.

    It’s a tricky topic though and hard to write about. Hopefully their will bee few mistakes inn this commentt four ewe to pick apart.

    I know. I’m so funny~

  5. I would say being judgemental about grammar issues in any way – whether it’s a utility issue or not – is a pet peeve at best and completely foolish at worst. If you can’t communicate with a person because of his grammar, you can stop or try to help him. Anything else is just dumb.

  6. Hey JW. I agree! I think. I kind of like your general point (don’t be a snob – shut up or be a teacher) But ..you are aware that if you call people (or their behaviour) “dumb” then you are also being *judgemental*, right?

    I’m smiling as I type that. This reminds me of the following joke:

    These gangsters came to our house and my sister answered the door. They said to her, ‘Kid, is your mum in?’
    My Sister said, ‘No, she ain’t.’
    They said, ‘Kid, is your dad in?’
    My sister said, ‘No, he ain’t.’
    They said, ‘Ah, come on kid, where’s your grammar?’
    My sister said, ‘In the front room asleep.’

    Badam ba!

    (I obviously should be doing my lesson plans …)

  7. Hi Melissa, yeah, I would say I’m as judgemental as your average Korean, or American, about the issues that both peoples care about. Which of course may not be a good thing. You know what this reminds me of– Seoulites getting all cranky with regional dialects. I love satoori –it’s got so much more life than standard Korean– but somee of these people can’t stand the wonderful variety in their language.

  8. As a general observation, most of your posts exude a sense of superiority, most of which I suspect surfaces because you are an educated* foreigner in Korea. I’m not surprised because your blog isn’t too different than any other foreigner’s blog about being in Korea.

    Also, your post about white people and grammar is hypocritical to say the least. You sense a “desperate social-climbiness” in “grammar ghouls”. I sense a desperate social-climbiness in the way you sprinkled SAT words throughout this post. You THINK you are smarter than the average bear. Maybe. I think you are better at English than the average Korean, but that’s about it.

    Grammar Nazis, as you pointed out, bothered to learn the rules. They point out errors because those mistakes change the meaning of sentences. You’d better hope that Grammar Nazis are writing laws and regulations back home in the US. “Simple” mistakes in grammar can throw the doors of interpretation wide open and cause all sorts of unintended confusion. Maybe you are lazy and don’t like being criticized for making grammar mistakes in your own language, but I’m just speculating.

    *By educated, I mean you have a piece of paper.

    P.S. I wonder how long it will take for you to follow the traditional arc of most foreigners in Korea. 1. What is this place? 2. Soju, kalbi, and girls! I love this place! But what’s with all the Korean people here? 3. I think the following things about this place are wrong and only I know how to fix them. I have this authority because I’ve been hired based on my ability to speak English. 4. I wanna go home.

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