Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grammar Nazi

I am a grammar Nazi: a sadistic, mocking, grammar Nazi. If I see a misplaced apostrophe, I sneer with disdain. If I come across a plural verb for a singular noun, I tut with Teutonic disgust. If I see a ‘your’ that should have been a ‘you’re’, I laugh with a condescending bark. And, whenever I encounter someone who confuses their there, they’re immediately labelled inferior.

I don’t mean to be so judgemental. I am only following orders. Strict grammatical orders.

Whenever someone asks me to critique a piece of work, I ask them to make sure they’ve gone through the spelling and the grammar. It’s a simple request. Or, I’ve always thought it was a simple request. It appears, too often, I am asking too much.

I don’t mean to sound like a bitch about this. I genuinely enjoy reading new fiction from new authors and I do try to be encouraging. But grammar is the backbone to clarity of writing. And, if it’s unclear what an author is trying to say, how the hell am I supposed to give constructive advice?

ME: Were you trying to illustrate the character’s vagueness of thought with the absence of a period at the end of the paragraph?

WRITER: No. I just forgot to put one at the end.

To illustrate: if I’m reading a piece of work that is original and innovative, I’d love to comment on the writer’s use of surprising metaphors, or the rich seam of symbolism that’s buried in their work. But, on more than one occasion I’ve had to preface this discussion with a statement that asks, ‘Do you understand the rules regarding possessive apostrophes? And, if you do understand them, why the chuff didn’t you obey them on page 1 through to 31?’

Or, since I seem to be ranting (again) this week: spellcheckers. Spellcheckers are a genius invention. Spellcheckers provide an easy option for finding a way to correctly spell words that are commonly tricky. I have sympathies for anyone who has difficulty spelling. English is a complex language with an etymologically rich heritage that spreads across the globe. The diversity of Latinate, Old English and French root words that support our lexis is enormous. Comprehending and memorising all the rules necessary to spell with consistent accuracy has always been an arduous if not impossible feat. Yet spellcheckers provide a safety net that highlight misspellings and allow writers an opportunity to check uncommon words.

And still, I’m asked to critique and consider manuscripts with spelling mistakes.

How thick does a person have to be to disagree with (or ignore) the computer’s spellchecker? More importantly, why should I be expected to give considered feedback to a piece of work when the author couldn’t consider it long enough to see that Microsoft Word had put a squiggly red line beneath the word clotoris?

I know I sound like I’m being picky. But that’s because I’m a grammar Nazi. Yet, without grammar Nazis, I sincerely believe this world would be he’ll.


  1. Don't feel bad; that drives me crazy too:)

  2. Cheers Molly,

    It always amazes me that people can let something so important slip.


  3. Rouge apostrophe! On no. Release the Clotoris!

  4. Rouge apostrophes? You're making me see red here :-)

    I shall now put on my jackboots and goosestep with disappointment.


  5. Ah, Ashley!

    How I sympathize! I might not sneer externally, but grammar errors will immediately lower my opinion of an author (not to mention his or her publisher, if I'm reading a published work rather than a manuscript).

    My pet peeve? Gerundal modifiers where the following noun is not the subject of the gerund:

    "Caressing her voluminous breasts, his trousers began to develop an obvious tent."

    (I doubt that he was using his trousers to caress her...)

    "Gasping for breath, her eyes surveyed the scantily attired man before her."

    (Eyes that gasp? Now that's original...)

    And so on. This for some reason seems to be a favorite construction of erotica and erotic romance authors. It's overused even when it's done correctly; when bungled as in the examples above it drives me crazy.

    "Drawing her brows into a frown, she slashed her red pen through the word 'cloteris'".


  6. Hi Lisabet,

    I like the idea of gasping eyes. They're probably similar to those tactile eyes that I personally despise:

    He rolled his eyes all over her body... She rolled her eyes over his erection (that latter one scares me with the imagery it evokes).

    The maddening thing about grammar is: get it right - and no one notices. Get it wrong - and you look like a fool.

    I do sympathise with anyone struggling to get an 80K+ word novel word perfect. But I also think - if I've spotted this error, why hasn't the author or editor?



  7. Sneer not, you skinny Brit. I've got and used my spellchecker for this, just for ewe!

    Ode to a Spellchecker

    I have a spelling checker
    I disk covered four my PC
    It plane lee marks four my revue
    Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
    Eye ran this poem through it
    Your sure real glad two no
    Its very polished in its weigh
    My checker tolled me sew.
    A checker is a blessing
    It freeze yew lodes of thyme
    It helps me right awl stiles two reed
    And aides me when aye rime.
    Each frays comes posed upon my screen
    Eye trussed to be a joule
    The checker pours o'er every word
    To cheque some spelling rule.
    Bee fore wee wrote with checkers
    Hour spelling was inn deck line
    Butt now when wee do have a laps
    Wee are not maid too wine
    And now bee cause my spelling
    Is checked with such grate flare
    There are know faults in awl this peace
    Of nun I am a wear
    To rite with care is quite a feet
    Of witch won should be proud
    And we mussed dew the best wee can
    Sew flaws are not aloud
    That's why I brake in two averse
    Cuz I dew want to please
    Sow glad eye yam that I did bye
    This soft wear four pea seas.

  8. Jude,

    I agree. I can't see a thing wrong with that poem. Thank you for proving my point.



  9. Hi Ash!

    Actually I like the idea of a woman rolling her eyes over my erection. That would feel really interesting.

    That might be an interesting idea for a story or a parody - a sexual partner with detachable body parts.

    One of the best horror stories I ever read was by Clive Barker called "The Body Politic" about a man whose body mysteriously rebels against him and parts of it detach and run amok and attack him.

    Just think what they could do if they were on his side!

    Eyeballs indeed.


  10. I completely concur. When I encounter poor grammar or spelling errors, I immediately discount the writing, the story and the author as amateurish and uneducated.

  11. Garce,

    If you ever meet the lady who wants to do that with her eyeballs, please don't write about it. Your work is incredibly vivid and that would genuinely unsettle me.

    And it's a coincidence you should mention Clive Barker. We were discussing Books of Blood and Weaveworld only last night. He's quite a powerful writer.



  12. Alexis,

    I'm glad you agree.

    In the real world, I'll pass off the first couple of mistakes as an occupational hazard. We're only human and I figure most of us can make a mistake now and again.

    But, when we're moving into the eighth or ninth mistake, it becomes clear that the writer hasn't invested the time and effort in polishing the work, and I do begin to wonder if it's worth my investment of time and effort into reading the work.



  13. Jude - if you;re still there -

    I love your poem.



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