Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 1- Confessions of a born grammar snob


I am an almost-a-grammar-snob. I'm not half as annoyed by bad pronunciation or poor vocabulary as by bad grammar.  You see, I am in love with grammar (mostly English, but where my knowledge is sufficient, Tamil/Hindi as well). I love the fact that sentences should be written in a particular way to make sense and writing them differently would change the meaning. I love all the rules that go into that process and can spend hours (in reality just minutes, but that doesn't quite have the same effect as saying 'hours'!) debating a minor grammar point.  
However, I do not usually try to correct people's grammar unless I know them really well. Not to say that bad grammar doesn't irk me (it drives me up the wall really), but I don't want to come across as picky or rude. And sometimes, I think it is just pointless. It is part of my general "let them be" philosophy.

Anyway, one of these days when I was talking to someone, I ended up making this statement- "The most beautiful thing about language is how it evolves. We look at 'Sense and sensibility' and think one thing, when in fact Austen meant to say 'Sense and sensitivity', which sounds completely different to us." (Reminds me of my watching the old Fountainhead). 
Notice I said 'evolves'. That is one beautiful word. It is like a river that takes things in as it flows- forever accepting and rejecting, and yet growing with time. It is not just 'grows' or 'changes', but 'evolves'. Slowly. Beautifully. Almost imperceptibly. 

And then I caught myself. Am I not contradicting myself here? How could language evolve if everybody followed the existing rules? Where would the change come from?
For sometime, I thought I had just been a prude (or an elitist) with double standards. You know, the kind that thinks- "When Shakespeare does it, it's the language 'evolving', but when some regular Indian IT support guy does it, it's murdering the language and hacking its limbs." But then again, that's not true either. I often try to draw a line between colloquial language usage and grammatical errors. To me, "prepone" is ok. "Can able to" is not. "Lol" is ok, but the infamous "entry from backside only" is not. I justify it to myself as- 'as long as the meaning is retained, it's ok'. So maybe I am not that bad a snob after all. 

But wait, maybe I am. After all, this line I draw, like most lines people draw, is arbitrary. And subjective. Why should "lol" be ok when "can able to" is not? "Can able to" may be ungrammatical but most people can understand it if used in a sentence. So why should I frown? And what people in one region or country might understand is completely different from what the rest of the world would.  I am definitely being a bad snob there.
Maybe it is just one of those instinctive things. Something I am conditioned to for too long to give up even if I think I should.

Anyway, in sum, that discussion made me realize I should be less reproachful of people with  bad grammar. And the funny thing is that, apparently, I summed the sentiment up pretty well in a poem I wrote when I was in high school- "Is not every 'wrong' note the beginning of a new song?"  


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P.S: I have been avoiding writing for a while- mostly because I was busy and writing seemed to be a luxury that I could not afford. (Aside, I did in fact waste a lot of time watching meaningless TV, but maybe writing takes more effort than that.) Anyway, now that I have some time upon my hands again, I am thinking of going back to the one post a day routine. It takes a lot of time, but maybe it's worth it.

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