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The Grammar Police Need to Get a Life

Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Twitter’s self-proclaimed grammar/spelling/stupidity police, who troll the social networking site with handles like Grammar_fail and GrammarHero. In “The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds“, John Metcalfe writes:

A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them — tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.

Now, with more people communicating and sharing through cell phones and iPads, it’s even easier to make typing mistakes (smaller screens, smaller keyboards, malfunctions, etc.).

I admit it: I try my very best to write correctly, but sometimes I just miss errors. I’m tired, distracted, etc. I don’t pretend to have an editor or a staff. I do the best that I can, and I put myself out there as much as I can.

Fire the editors at newspapers and magazines, and I can promise you that you’ll start seeing a lot of errors. Even the most talented, most experienced writers make mistakes, especially in longer-form articles.

Does that mean everyone who can’t afford or has the luxury of an editor should stop writing? Sure, bloggers/tweeters should be careful and take into consideration the rules of grammar and proper spelling, but that doesn’t mean they will always be able to catch their own mistakes.

I do catch a lot of mistakes I make, usually after the fact. As a natural-born perfectionist, I struggle with the need to delete or change things I think are incorrect. However, for the most part, my errors are not fatal; they aren’t hurting anyone or obscuring the meaning of my writing. They are just nitpicky things that the grammar police would notice.

I’ve learned how to leave these errors be. I have enough confidence in myself as a writer to believe that these small errors, if caught, won’t cause anyone to judge me or think I’m a poor writer.

I put myself and my work on the line a lot, and I think it’s more important to keep producing the best content I can without obsessing too much about it. Sharing my ideas is more important to me than perfecting the hell out of them. And the more I write, the better I get at catching and preventing my own mistakes.

One thing’s for sure: if you’re sitting around policing other people, you’re not saying anything original. You’re just being negative. Taking risks and taking them often means you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. In the end, the risk-takers win. The people criticizing the risk-takers don’t move forward; they end up exactly where they started.

Theis anecdote about William Safire is a great example: “Fans of the late journalist and linguist William Safire may recall his ‘Gotcha! Gang,’ readers who liked to point fingers at the occasional lapse in Mr. Safire’s weekly language column for The New York Times Magazine.”

At the end of the day, Mr. Safire will always be known as a beloved language expert. The “Gotcha! Gang” is currently enjoying obscurity.

(Photo by didbygraham)

Laryssa Wirstiuk is a social media marketing and online image consultant. Learn more about how she can help you and your business gain friends and customers by visiting Comma ‘n Sentence Consulting.


  1. Great post, Laryssa – it really sums the situation up well.
    I’m in the process of setting up an editing service website which will also offer grammar tips and tutorials, etc, and the biggest fear I have about it is coming across as a self-righteous “grammar cop”.
    Good sense should prevail and, as you say, it’s really all about using a good copy editor if you have the resources. If not, you just need to do the best you can.
    It’s really tough to spot your own typos – we often read what we intended to write instead of what our clumsy fingers actually typed onto the page/screen. Editing someone else’s copy is one thing but if I’m writing something myself I usually ask another person to cast an eye over it. Luckily, my husband’s also a copy editor!
    (PS: Would love to link to your post – my website is due to go “live” in the next week or two)

  2. They are completely going overboard. But one has to admit, it’s about time people stand up for blatant disregard for the Kings English.

  3. I’m guilty of being a grammar nazi. I do have a solution though. I’ve been telling people this for a while now. If we switch to the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), all these mistakes would disappear. Most of the mistakes we see on the internet derive from a phonetic understanding of words. In other words, English is self-correcting all the nonsense that’s accrued over the its history.

    What we would see, however, is an increase in spelling variety because of regional accents. These, I think, could add some real interesting flavor to language.

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