Confessions of a grammar grump
By Mary Croke

There's a mural I drive by all the time in Germantown, makes me crazy.  It covers the side of a two-story building, and in the middle of this big picture is an inspiring message in big black letters.  And in the middle of the inspiring message is a (scre-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e -- fingernail on blackboard) grammar mistake.

I've learned to avert my eyes, but my mind still fills with violent fantasies of _crossing out_ that wrong word and _replacing_ it with the right one.  In black!  In big black letters!

I am told on good authority that I am what is called a grammar grump.  I am one of those people who, if I'm not correcting somebody's grammar (or spelling, or punctuation, or whatever), it's only because I'm trying to stay out of trouble.  We grumps are for the most part Good People, civilized and law-abiding; and we believe the world could be a better place -- if it weren't for all those goofs!  Apostrophes in all the wrong places, crazy, mixed-up pronouns, creative spelling, sentence structure that doesn't make sense -- just _what_ is this world coming to??   Were we the only people paying attention in sixth grade?

One reason we're such sticklers for details, (as in, God-is-in-the-details, details), is that we are _word_ people, besotted with the English language.  We glory in its beauty, its  inventiveness, its generosity, its humor -- and its precision.

Another reason we care so much, I'm convinced, is that we’re nervous about a world that changes much too quickly.   Humans can get pretty willy-nilly, but common language provides structure and coherence, making communication easier and more reliable.  Can we understand that language changes as people change, that it is bigger than its conventions?  Not really.  Our brains understand; our insides don't.

And last but not least -- there's much to be said for being able to play a game better than anyone else.

If there were a place in hell reserved for grammar grumps, I imagine it filled with an unceasing cacophony of voices.

"His situation was different from Jack."
"Both he and she each had a baby."
"The panel discussed their decision."
"He picked less apples than me."
"It was great fun for she and I."
"Me and Dan walked there."
"Neither him nor myself were here."

"That's just _wrong_!"  the grumps would be wailing, in between weeping and gnashing their teeth -- and wondering if they'd be better off in the part of hell reserved for those who hate mumblers.

Of course, grumps don't go to hell.  They go to heaven.

There's a downside to all this excellence.  We actually (ahem...) make mistakes all the time, especially those of us less knowledgeable or conscientious.  A corrected grump is a sorry sight. I asked an old veteran what she does in this situation.  "Well -- I eat humble pie!" she said. And then what?  "Well -- if I have my wits about me, I congratulate the other person for being so observant!"

But there's some safety in numbers.  On the principle that the best defense is a good offense, some of us could form a vigilante organization. I can see us all huddled around somebody's kitchen table, discussing strategies and targets. Come nightfall we would all gather up our ladders and flashlights, felt-tip markers and cans of spray paint.  Then -- off we'd go!  We'd hit the streets, in true activist fashion, putting ourselves on the line for civilization.

Sure, it's vandalism, but so what?  We've got God on our side.