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Mary Schmich, of the Tribune, posted the column below about the difference between grammar cranks and grammar geeks. It sounds a lot like our descriptivists vs. prescriptivists.
Meet the Grammar Crank. Maybe you already know him.

The Grammar Crank is that guy on the online comment board who dismisses the opinions of others by mocking their grammar mistakes.

Or what he thinks are their grammar mistakes.

The Grammar Crank posts items on Facebook and Twitter just to make fun of an error in the headline or the text.

Or what he thinks is an error.

The only thing the Grammar Crank loves more than good grammar is pointing out other people's bad grammar, and if he's reading this, he's already preparing his diatribe on sentence fragments, especially ones that begin with "or."

Back in the old days, the Grammar Crank's audience was small. The best he could do was to chide his children, correct his friends and fire off letters to an offending writer or publication.

Now? The Internet is his bullhorn, and he is not going to let anyone get away with anything that departs from the rules he was taught in third grade.

Or imagines he was taught.

To be clear: The Grammar Crank is not the same as The Grammar Geek.

The Geek appreciates good grammar and notices bad grammar but acknowledges that grammar evolves. Unless asked, he or she tries to shut up about it.

The Crank, on the other hand, condemns and crusades, decrying every misused "hopefully" as proof of the apocalypse.

I try to stay on the geek side of the line but I fear I crossed it recently, which is what inspired me to write this column.

Some stranger on Facebook had taken someone to task for purportedly misusing "who." I couldn't resist. I jumped in and defended "who" as correct. A spat ensued.

And when it was over, I had to wonder: Why? Why had the person started this public argument? Why was I compelled to argue back? With a stranger?

One reason, I'd guess, is that it's easier to argue over "who" and "whom" than over all the chaos in the world, but for more on the topic I sought out Carol Saller.

Saller is the editor of the monthly Q&A of the Chicago Manual of Style Online, in which she answers grammar questions with an open mind not always associated with the word "editor."

"When we're young, we're taught the rules," she said when I called. "When you're young, if you don't have a lot of knowledge, you cling to those rules. Your power lies there. It's an ego thing. As you get older, you realize you're an idiot and become more flexible."

Well, some people do. Not grammar cranks, which is what makes them cranks or, to use her term, "shamers."

Cranks and shamers are often more interested in the minutia than in the message, and happy to derail conversations by nitpicking.

"And often," she said, "the shamer is just wrong, flat-out wrong."

Saller, too, has noticed the proliferation of online grammar shaming, particularly on political sites.

"People bring their political passion," she said. "There's this anger, and they want to insult someone any way they can. Insulting their grammar is akin to saying, 'You're stupid.' "

Saller, who is also the author of "The Subversive Copy Editor," a book designed to help people understand that grammar isn't set in stone, has presided, very affably, over some of the great grammar debates of our time.

Like, is the serial comma good or bad? One or two spaces after a period?

"Those two quibbles are not worth anyone's time," she said, though she added that "one space is the rule."

She also believes it's fine to split infinitives, end a sentence with a preposition and, in many circumstances, use "they" as a singular.

Saller said that grammar shaming is a topic of discussion lately among some people who think about language.

"I've read more than one person saying that criticism of someone else's grammar is the last remaining socially acceptable form of discrimination," she said. "There's a prejudice that someone who doesn't speak standard English comes with a raft of other faults."

She noted that while it's poor form to attack people for their race or gender, it's still acceptable to attack people for their grammar.

Saller isn't advocating getting rid of grammar rules. Neither am I.

But grammar geeks and cranks would be wise to follow the advice she recently offered online, "The trick is to be less annoyed."


But don't get me started on "between you and I."

Posts: 24735 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
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There are now so many errors in on-line articles that it's no longer any fun to be cranky about them, so the issue is, IMHO, dead.
Posts: 6172 | Location: Muncie, IndianaReply With QuoteReport This Post
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Well, the article isn't only talking about online articles. It's talking about writing in general.
Posts: 24735 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
On the subject, one crank in South Carolinia ls asking the state to allow3 him to shop after hours in his local drugstore since he suffers from PTSD and prefers to be alone.
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Hilarious! Big Grin
Posts: 24735 | Location: Chicago, USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
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