I used to call myself a -cringe- ‘Grammar Nazi’. Political correctness aside, I was pretty passionate about the correct usage of the English language in both speech and writing. Perhaps it was because of my natural love for words that I happily accepted my mother’s corrections to my growing vocabulary rather than the normal reaction of an adolescent – a roll of the eyes and instant deleting of the information (don’t worry, I did that to plenty of my mother’s other advice at the time). So it always annoyed me that other people couldn’t get the basics of language right.
Slowly I came to learn that it was simply something I did better than other people. Communication was my thing. People mangling the English language no longer made me angry, though they did baffle me a little, but I was a big enough person to realise that not everyone is capable of remembering the rules.
I still stuck to the rules though. And I would argue with other writers and language enthusiasts about the right way to say things. Some people would write beautifully but didn’t feel the need to ‘make the effort’ when it came to everyday speech. It’s like they were dumbing themselves down for their audience. That made me angry – it only perpetuated the decline of correct grammar. If people who naturally struggle with words only ever hear ‘dumbed down’ English, it’s all they will ever know.
I have relaxed a lot since then. Maybe it’s my time in advertising, where the most important thing is to act like your customer. Maybe it’s my time in project management where everyone has different strengths and it’s about being humble and conceding we are all there to contribute to fill each other’s areas of weakness. Maybe it’s my time as a wife and a mother where I’ve learned there are some things I’m really good at, and some things I’m really bad at. Or maybe it’s just something that comes with age, where I’ve realised some things just aren’t that important.
What I have realised is that language and English in particular is always evolving. We are using words now that didn’t exist 50 years ago. Words that years ago, meant something entirely different. I’m not talking about selfie or literally (nails on chalkboard). We are borrowing words from other languages because we are so much more integrated with other cultures now. Why make up a new word when one already exists?
Ok so I admitted it, there are still word usages that annoy me. The point of my story is though that the 14-year-old me would have corrected the person saying ‘literally’ who meant ‘figuratively’ and been really arrogant about it. That doesn’t help anyone. I know what they meant. Correcting them doesn’t help – they probably don’t even care.
It’s probably a good thing I learn this lesson as my son learns to talk so I don’t stress us both out by constantly correcting him. The only language I can control is my own, and I’ll have to be happy with that.