Thank You for Not Correcting My Grammar…and Tiger Woods
CNN.com recently challenged readers to submit videos describing their year in 30 seconds. This has absolutely nothing to do with this article, but I hate doing lead-ins. Also, the picture accompanying CNN’s headline looked to have some seriously busty girls in it.
Correcting someone else’s grammar is one of those faux pas that everybody knows save the people who haven’t yet gotten to this part of sentence because they stopped at “faux pas” and are currently wondering Should it be italicized? (Hint: Get a goddamn life.) But you run into those people all the time, preferably with a Buick. And while they may be correct to point out your misapplication of the subjunctive or improper use of the term “coprophagous” (what the hell kind of friends do you have anyway?), that doesn’t make them any more pleasant to be around.
Back when I was an editor, the work week wasn’t officially over until we got a letter, roughly several thousand pages long, from some mongoloid reader writing to inform us of how the typo on page 73, paragraph 5, sentence 17, sent him into catatonic shock. These letters always end with the line,
If you need help editing your articles, I’m an excellent proofreader and work cheap!
Naturally, their intent was the same as anyone who corrects grammar: It wasn’t meant to actually improve one’s usage, it was just to show off how much of a smarty-pants they were and how big a dumb-head we all rest of us is. The typical one went something like
Dear Editor of the Magazine to Which I Don’t Subscribe:
I was perusing through your pedantic periodical the other day on the latrine out behind Denny’s (actually it was more of a hollowed-out stump, also, the defunct Texaco 4 miles from Route 9) and I was shocked to discover that you referred to the Franco-Prussian war as beginning in 1870. Obviously your staff has absolutely no knowledge of this event and no business writing about it, because, of course, as we all know and which you could have learned from asking even the most drooling of idiots, including my dog, Mr. Otto von Biscuits, that the war actually began in the summer of 1870.
As a [casual mention of the letter-writer's profession], I make it a point that all my girls know every aspect of the late 19-century engagement between France and Prussia. Why, just the other day Shaunna’s 3:00 asked her how long Germany held the territory of Alcase-Lorraine, and, between moans and beating him with a cat-o-nine tails, she correctly answered, “Until the end of World War I.”
I’m ashamed to have wasted valuable poopy-time reading your worthless [expletive deleted] of a magazine. In the future, I hope you pay more attention to such details, otherwise I will be forced to [shoot the neighbor's cat/eat a big sandwich/write another long and boring letter]. Why, when I was a [boy/girl/transgender], people took pride in their work. I can still remember my old teacher [Sister Mary Polanski] beating me with a [2X4] to ensure that when I grew up, I’d always have the courage to [inevitable reference to the letter-writer's valiant battle with gout].
So how do you deal with these people? I’m of the opinion that if you don’t rely on them for any sort of financial endowment, first you should tell them to [expletive included] “Fuck off.”
If you’re not so lucky, you could write a backhandedly flattering response, as I did a few years ago, when one reader spent 1500 words and probably the better part of an afternoon expressing his extreme dissatisfaction with an article that, in a casual aside, evidently mistranslated the German word “verein” as “truly. ” Here’s my response:
You are truly correct: Mr. Smith’s command of the German language is obviously, vastly inferior to your own.
And we are truly ashamed, not only with Mr. Smith [article's author]‘s flagrant deficiencies in the Teutonic tongue, but also with our own staff, who failed to catch the error, and especially with our German editor, whom we have since dismissed and shot. Hans had been with us for years, but clearly such monstrous neglect was unacceptable.
In closing, let’s just make a deal: We’ll tell Smith to stick to English if you just stick to Deutsch. Truly – or, as they say in the old country, “verein.”
If neither of those is an option, you could always punch them in some sensitive area, ideally one that facilitates procreation.
If that doesn’t work, you can always turn the tables by pointing out their grammatical mistakes and/or personal failings:
Well, Dan, you’re right that I used the passive voice, but you don’t know the difference between “further” and “farther.”*
Well, Dan, you’re right that “ain’t” isn’t word, but your mother once confided in me that you were a prime candidate for abortion.
Any of these is a good choice, but if you want to resolve the situation in the most amicable [least fun] and vereinly way possible, just shoot back, “I’m conforming to the house style.” …and then punch them in the vas deferens. As for me, I’m off to prepare a 30-second video clip of some sexy girls.
*If it’s something measurable, like distance, it’s “farther”; if it’s not, it’s “further,” e.g. “Let’s take that thought further.”