F Off, Grammar Purists

Grammar purists have always nestled like alabama ticks in every dark corner of the internet. In the past year or so, they seem to be everywhere! These guys police statuses, tweets, threads and then call those out they feel are ‘unacceptable’. (Why anyone who doesn’t like colloquial speak online would follow a platform like B2W, I have no idea. Some people are their own worst enemy, yet point fingers at others as being ‘the problem’. Le sigh).

But this phenomenon is not only related to B2W. It seems internet-wide. It started with basic corrections of typos and spelling. Now apparently informal, colloquial speak on social media is considered WRONG by some writers *full stop*. 

Well, you purists better have to time to DUCK … Let’s go!

1) Context is everything

Starting with the obvious. Writing on social media should not be subject to the same critique as a piece of screenwriting or prose. C’mon, this is basic. This is why I don’t accept complaints about typos, grammar or punctuation on the B2W social media. It’s also why I won’t allow ‘helpful’ corrections of other members’ posts in the Bang2writers Facebook group.
 
Making assumptions about someone’s level of education or competency based solely on their social media posts is absurd. There are some incredible minds out there who may not see the world the same way as you. They may not have had the educational advantages as you. They may have extra challenges, like being a non-native English speaker, or dyslexia. Or maybe they’re just shit at typing. Whatever.
 
Moving on from social media … Yes, critique of actual writing submissions may include assessment of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Sometimes, this is justified. Sometimes it is not. It depends. Good readers should know how to differentiate (plus they should also be inclusive, see point 5 on this list).
 
Realising the above and reminding yourself of it is the key. Purists don’t, which is why they are dicks.

2) Understanding counts for something

Who cares, as long as the receiver is able to realise what is meant? Some great writers can’t spell or punctuate for shit. Some can, but just don’t give a shit in various contexts (as above). Others make their writers’ voices stand for something specific. Why not.

Autocorrect is also thing, which can be good but also bad. Many people are writing on phones or tablets with touch-screens. Some creative minds have added learning needs. Others are on medication that screws with their ability to ‘see’ stuff like typos. Or maybe they have vampire fingerprints, like me. Shrug.

REPEAT AFTER ME: ‘if I know what is meant, then meaning is delivered‘.

It is that simple. Or can be. C’mon, why make life more difficult than it needs to be. 
 

3) Language usage is fluid

If you want language and expression to adhere to an ‘ideal’, rigid hierarchy that we ‘should’ all conform to — why would you be a writer??? That’s the very opposite of creative.
 
Language EVOLVES. There’s no such thing as the ‘best’ language, but English speakers do have an incredibly rich vocabulary. This is not limited to standard English, but regional and subculture dialects. We add to the dictionary at a rate of knots. Many EFL Bang2writers have told me over the years they LOVE English for this reason. 
 
What’s more, check out the infographic below. It’s a bit of fun that mostly delivers on its learning goal EXCEPT for one thing. ‘Oxford commas matter’ it insists. Um yeah, not so much over here in the UK; it can depend. Oops. Because guess what?? Context is everything! Things change, territory to territory, culture to culture, style guide to style guide. Fancy that!

4) Purists’ mythical ‘standards’ are BS …

Following on from point 3) on this list … Every time someone laments standards in writing ought to be ‘higher’, it makes me laugh. Why? Because it’s golden-ager, elitist nonsense.
 
As an example, Shakespeare is feted as one of the best writers to ever live by the UK Education system. If you’re a trained English teacher (and I am), you will know it is impossible to escape him. He is taught at primary, secondary and beyond. He turns up EVERYWHERE in some capacity.
 
Yet not a single writer living today writes like him. Not one.
In fact, if we followed Shaky’s lead and made up words and other flowery shit? We would soon get accused of being ‘over-indulgent’ and writing ‘purple prose’As I mention in point 1 on this list, contexts and audience preferences change. These days, you’re far more likely to see the pared-down, minimalist style of Ernest Hemingway touted as ‘good’ writing. This is why The Hemingway App is so popular in writing circles.
 
Oh, and another thing! Even *in* his day, Shakespeare was considered a complete hack by the likes of Samuel Pepys. He wasn’t the only renowned writer to hate The Bard’s guts, either. Now what?? Could it be that – le gasp – the notion of what constitutes ‘higher standards’ has an element of OPINION to it???
 
Standards needing to be higher as an indicator of supposed ‘quality’ also has more disturbing ramifications. This leads me to the most important point of all. More, next.

5) … And keep marginalised writers OUT

Look, I get it. I was a stickler back in the day too. But I realised insisting on those mythical ‘higher standards” cuts out SWATHES of marginalised writers. We’re talking poor and working-class writers the most, which in turn impacts on various other communities. After all, intersectionality is a thing and no one exists in a bubble. 
 
If you had a great education? Lucky you. Literallylucky you!! You never made the decision to go to that great school that taught you the ‘proper’ rules of grammar … Your parents did. They may have paid for you to go; you may have got a scholarship. They may have moved house into a specific catchment area. They may have been able to give you an allowance to stay in college or university. Whatever.
 
Not everyone is able to do the above, for complicated reasons. Some may be money-orientated; others social. Being born to parents who not only understand the value of education but are able to action it is like winning the lottery.  Sure, you may have ‘worked hard’ at school and taken full advantage of the opportunity available to you. Great! You were still handed that opportunity out of blind luckYou could have been born to parents who could not (or even would not!) give you that opportunity.

Concluding

Seriously, fuck being a grammar purist. It is blaming less-educated people for something that is not their  fault. Just as often though, it’s not even relevant. As writers we ought to know better. We should show more understanding of this complex issue. There’s enough rigid-thinking sticklers in the world. 

Of course, there are those tedious purists still out there who are also gate-keepers. Until we weed them out, our writing needs ‘reader-proofing’ when we send it out for submission. There’s also the point novels and non fiction generally need to be proofed and copy-edited. It’s just the way of things.
 
But good news! No one worth their salt in the actual industry is going to put you on the spot about this stuff. Trust me, I’ve been paid for this writing shit a long time. No one has even so much as asked me so much as what a ‘doing word’ is! Surprise, surprise. 

So just do what you need to … Which is check over your writing as best you can, utilise the tools available and/or pay a proof reader if possible.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell those grammar purists to go fuck themselves.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMM!!!

Lastly, here’s some linkage To Help with number 1) on this list. Good luck out there.

3 Ways To ‘Reader-Proof’ Your Screenplay

Top 5 Proofing Mistakes Writers Make

Top 6 Tips For Editing Your Own Writing

7 Best Proofreading Tools For Writers 

10 Useful Infographics To Help You Pick The Right Words

12 Quick Tips To Help You Improve Your Writing Right Now

Top 15 Pesky Grammar Rules Writers Can Ignore

How To Improve Your Grammar (Writers’ Cheat Sheet)

Watch Out For These Top 5 Writing Mistakes

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19 Responses to 5 Reasons Grammar Purists Can Go Fuck Themselves

  1. Wendy says:

    Wow, that was a real rant. I get what you’re saying, but I don’t entirely agree. In informal writing, absolutely, but in extensive pieces, like novels and long articles, having to pause for a few seconds to work out what is meant when there is a typo or wrong word used can spoil your enjoyment If not your comprehension when it happens a lot.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Talking of comprehension, it literally says this in the article, at both the beginning and the end:

      ‘Yes, critique of actual writing submissions may include assessment of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Sometimes, this is justified. Sometimes it is not. It depends. Good readers should know how to differentiate.’

      ‘There’s also the point novels and non fiction generally need to be proofed and copy-edited. It’s just the way of things.’

  2. Sarah Connors says:

    Oh, I so love this article. As a dyslexic 50 something who has hidden it my entire teaching and writing career, it made me smile and punch the air. Thanks!!!

  3. Maura Casey says:

    I’ve been a professional writer for 35 years. Grammar has always been a source of frustration for me. I have learned it by ear but still could not take apart a sentence by parts of speech much more than a noun here and a verb there if you put a gun to my head. Big goddamn deal, I still paid the mortgage and won 45 writing awards, including a shared Pulitzer, along the way. So here is my answer to grammar Nazis everywhere: You think that identifying parts of speech is so important, and that pouncing on dangling participles makes you a superior human being? Well, Sir Paul McCartney cannot read notes. I don’t think that kept him from composing great music. So you can kiss my ass!

  4. Jim says:

    Loved the rant. I rather read a mistake-ridden novel that inspires than a grammatically perfect book that is a struggle to finish.

  5. LM (Lily) Mulholland says:

    The only time I now indulge in correcting spelling and grammar is when I’m toying with unskilled trolls. It’s fun to employ the asterisk against them. I fully support your rant. We need more working class and poor writers to tell their stories. How lucky are we that they are determined to write despite not having all the advantages?

  6. Glyn Carter says:

    Writing is about communication. Writers need to ensure their language communicates what they wish to say, and words, grammar and punctuation are their tools. Tools, though, can be used in different and creative ways, but a carpenter still needs to know the difference between a screwdriver and chisel. Ambiguity and diverstiy are allowed, but not unwitting confusion.

    For an elegant dismantling of grammer policing that extols what’s useful while filleting out what’s redundant, see Stephen Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing.

  7. John Smith says:

    I have been away from B2W and the internet for too long. After reading this article, I smiled to myself as I see Lucy is still on the case. I personally salute people that attempt to write in English and it is not their first language, but they still manage to get their point across. Great article and I 100% agree with her.

    BTW, it would be interesting seeing Lucy enter the world of politics some day.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      I think I would end up in the Tower of London with the ravens for stepping over the sword line in the House of Commons too many times! haha

  8. Fay Devlin says:

    I’m a grammar purist but agree that social media should be exempt from purists’ corrections. Social media posts are like casual conversations: who wants to be corrected when chatting with friends?

    But gawd help the writer who submits a script for input that’s riddled with inconsistent application of spelling or grammar. I don’t care if you’re “wrong” as long as you are consistent!

    PS: Wow, Brits can fucking swear!

  9. Philip Gove, the controversial editor of Webster’s Third New International (Unabridged) Dictionary published in 1961, believed in certain precepts of linguistics. They are:

    1. Language changes constantly.
    2. Change is normal.
    3. Spoken language is the language.
    4. Correctness rests upon usage.
    5. All usage is relative.

    These concepts had been endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of English, Gove noted, “but they still come up against the attitude of several generations of American educators who have labored devotedly to teach that there is only one standard which is correct.”

    The battles Gove fought after the release of Webster’s Third are the same battles raging today between those willing to allow change to occur and those who hold steadfast to the way it has always been done. Or at least, has been done since they were taught how it “must” be done.

    My own research into the simple matter of how to spell words revealed that even Noah Webster himself put forth the “correct” spelling of certain words that never caught on to become the way we spell some words today and subsequent versions of his dictionary had these words changed back to the way they were commonly spelled instead of Webster’s “correct” way.

    What it all boils down to is a matter of opinion.

  10. John Connell says:

    You guys make me sick. Of course grammer and speling is important. You don’t know nothin’ about how to write good, I see that clear as any thing. Yous are all goin’ to writers hell.

  11. As a teacher of screenwriting in a country where more than 50% of my students speak English as a second or third language – thank you!
    Like all social interactions, aptness to the moment is what constitites the RIGHT and the WRONG – and your lovely, lively blog is a communal place of irreverence, wisdom and inspiration. Those who feel uncomfortable here should feel free to leave.
    However …. although language is an ever-evolving creature, it is a means of communication. I try to teach that writers should do their best to use the tool of language to convey as conventionally as possible the meaning they intend. If they are writing in English, then the current conventions of Englsh are the way to go.
    We live in the world of and-also NOT either-or. Today’s writers can use and enjoy colloquial languge AND ALSO write clear, conventional English that conveys its intention to most readers.
    eNkosi, Lucy. Thank you!

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