Although I spend a lot of time on the AP Stylebook Online website, I do keep up with Internet memes and mashups and controversies, and I love to read comments.
This post about “Why It’s Hard Being a Grammar Nazi” over on BuzzFeed was (like lots of things on the Internet) cute. It’s about 30 images of misspellings and improper uses of the possessive apostrophe – really egregious stuff.
But I was quite surprised at some of the comments. Not the first few: those were the typical ones you find at the bottom of any grammar-related post, where people just have to bring up obscure, flagrantly ignored rules that drive them batty. These comments are usually mixed up with ones that say “language evolves, get over it” and then someone will want to start yet another debate about the Oxford comma.
There are trolls and sarcasm bombers, of course, but one commenter, in all seriousness, called grammar Nazis “conservative misanthropes who only delight in finding exercise for their pitiful pet school of study.” He also said that we “perform [our] work out of a sense of mean spiritedness.”
This person received 14 likes to his original post and a slew of support.
I’m truly insulted that someone out there thinks that my career as an editor – my “pitiful pet school of study” – is harmful to society, and that by nature I’m cruel-minded.
Further down, he tried to clarify that “grammar Nazis aren’t editors” because the former are “nitpicking bullies,” but I truly don’t understand the difference (please enlighten me if you do). If you placed any one of the images in the BuzzFeed post in front of me, I’d edit it. If I were driving past a sign with a misplaced possessive apostrophe, I’d mention it to my companions. I wouldn’t get out of my car and deface such a sign with a giant Marks-a-Lot, but I also wouldn’t stop anyone who did.
The vast majority of errors on signs and cakes are made out of ignorance, not defiance. I fail to see how correcting someone who made an error out of ignorance (which by definition means that they are unaware) is bullying, especially because I don’t believe editors ever come across this way. Most of us really are cerebral librarian types.
As for refusing to accept that language evolves, yes, editors often do resist when existing rules are swept away in a tide of Tweets, status updates, blog posts, e-books, college essays, email blasts, and so on. Few continue to resist after the stylebooks have weighed in, however, and such obstinacy when you’ve agreed to follow a particular style for a client is essentially malpractice.
When the stylebooks are silent, my colleagues and I have gone with majority usage as reflected on the Internet. For reals. So how is that not respecting the evolution of language?
I say on my About page that the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be is an editor. It may sound unusual, but no one raises an eyebrow at the Olympic skater who started at age 3. I’ve never thought of myself as a misanthrope or mean-spirited because I get paid to do what I love and what I’m good at. I’m saddened that there are people out there who think my occupation, which has so defined and delighted me, is not only unnecessary but detrimental … and to what, I’m not sure.