Will all grammar snobs please raise a hand? Mine goes up immediately. Yes, I admit I am a snob in the most grammarly sense of the word. Oh no! Is that bad grammar?
While I pride myself on my good use of English grammar, and look back to my “grammar school” years of learning, and loving, to diagram sentences, I’m not surprised. I have always been in love with the English language. Words – used correctly – are my friends.
Being a grammar snob never bothered me until I met someone who was a bigger snob than I was, and who loved correcting me on my grammar snafus. I had visions of this becoming a lasting relationship, but grammar got in the way, big time. Being constantly corrected on my “at home talk” was the first nail in the relationship coffin. But then came corrections on “lay” and “lie”, and “who” and “whom”, which have always kept me on my grammar toes. I keep a worn copy of Harbrace College Handbook close by for times when these, and other, words trip me up in my writing, but I contend that casual conversation doesn’t demand perfection with every word. He did. He didn’t like my southern phrases, “I’m fixin’ to…” or “cut off the light, please,” and reminded me each time I uttered these, or one of a dozen other phrases I hold near and dear to my heart. These minor annoyances of being constantly corrected grew to be the elephant in my room, and although the relationship crashed and burned over other issues, grammar snobbery was the spark that set off the eventual explosion.
Then George came into my life, and taught me a thing or two about grammar snobbery. George is from North Carolina, the third of six children born to textile mill workers, who grew up in a mill village near Charlotte. George was the first of his family to graduate from high school (not – graduate high school!), and prided himself on finishing with a solid C- average. Grammar proficiency wasn’t high on the list of academic expectations. What mattered in George’s life was being understood when one spoke, and that didn’t require perfect grammar.
When we first became friends, his grammar was painful to my ears, setting my nerves on edge. I even contemplated letting George ease quietly out of my life, thinking that my friends might find him too much of a country bumpkin. What a snob I was! But I couldn’t do it – he was just too nice, too kind, too considerate, and too colorful to let him slip through my fingers. The snob in me began to fade away, much like my summer tan when I was a kid, and I found myself thinking less and less about how he expressed himself and more and more about what he actually had to say.
I have made the statement more than once that God sent George to me to teach me how not to be a snob. Over the three years that I have known George, he has become my best friend, my confidante, and my go-to guy. I have grown to love the way he expresses himself verbally, how he fits so comfortably inside his own skin, and how he makes no bones about who he is or where he has been in life. I no longer shudder over his grammatical errors, as they only enhance his personality and make him more endearing to me. I have learned that wisdom doesn’t follow the rules of grammar, nor does compassion or intelligence. There are no grammar rules in the Harbrace College Handbook for laughter, tears, cloud gazing, porch-swinging, story-telling, empathy, happiness, or love.
I know that I am still a grammar snob in many ways, especially when I read something that contains glaring grammatical errors. But, as I used to teach my fourth grade language arts students in rural Virginia, “at home talk” is good talk.
And at this point in my life, home is where I want to be!