The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar has declared March 4 to be “National Grammar Day“. They’re reasonable and polite about it, suggesting that you kindly reprimand any non-standard usages that cross your path that day. The problem is that prescriptivists tend to have a hard time not being obnoxious about grammar. Let’s take, for instance, the writings of James Cochrane, author of Between You and I. I’ve already discussed what a sourpuss he is, but let’s look at a few more of his statements from that book:
“This is English that is not only bad, but stupid, and it should be mocked at jeered at until it disappears out of sheer embarrassment.”
“What can be the reason for what is not merely ungrammatical English, but actually stupid English?”
“When seen in the form ‘in the throws of’ [as opposed to in the throes of], it should be treated with ridicule and contempt.”
You see, this is why we can’t have nice holidays about grammar. Can you imagine this sort of vitriol for other holidays?
[Valentine’s Day]: “Being single is is not only bad, but stupid, and it should be mocked at jeered at until it disappears out of sheer embarrassment.”
[National Soup Month]: “When dinner is seen in a form lacking soup, it should be treated with ridicule and contempt.”
Look, I understand that grammatical errors can be frustrating. I don’t like it any more than you do when people use the greengrocer’s apostrophe. But then again, I don’t like it when people do a lot of things, yet I still manage not to call the guy taking up more than his fair share of the bus seat an ignorant backwater bumpkin. Nor do I inform the cashier who rings up my apples as something costing $14/lb that he is not merely being incompetent, but actually appallingly stupid. So it’s fine if you want to go around correcting people’s English usage on Tuesday, but do so in a way that’s polite. More importantly, don’t correct people’s English unless you are certain you are right. In case you were unsure, the following are not valid reasons to be certain that X is grammatically unacceptable:
1. You learned X was bad grammar in school
2. Your favorite prescriptivist asserted X was bad grammar
3. Everyone knows X is bad grammar
4. X is an illogical construction (cf. idioms)
And lastly, make sure that what you’re complaining about isn’t a regionalism — especially if you are in the region from which that regionalism comes. Don’t tell Texans that I might could use your help is bad grammar; double modals follow grammatical rules, so they’re actually good grammar within Texan English. On that note, let me just warn you that if you attempt to correct my regionalisms (e.g., positive anymore, needs cleaned) on National Grammar Day, you’ll find that March 4th also happens to be National Beat-People-Up Day.