English is a bus leaving the station while we grammar geeks argue on the platform about the Oxford comma. Language constantly evolves with use. “Colour” became “color” when it emigrated, and everyone boldly splits infinitives and puts up with that up with which we never used to put. Somehow, we all still manage to communicate, although not always well.
I railed at the use of “impact” as a verb (unless you are talking wisdom teeth) but nobody listened. I fumed over people who punctuated every other sentence with lol. I muttered at the supermarket over the “less than 14 items” aisle. And I still maintain that, with a few isolated exceptions (there are always exceptions) use of the “F” word never improved any piece of prose, and in fact merely shows the writer’s lack of imagination in coming up with more original colorful metaphors. All to no avail. It’s a lost cause. Srsly.
However, how one wields this potent weapon we call language does reveal a great deal. It is in part a class thing. How you speak and write helps to identify where you fall in the social spectrum: Ivy league or publicly educated, painfully geeky or casually colloquial, or don’t make no fuckin dif. But money and education sometimes are wasted on certain individuals (think George “ingrinnable” Bush) and there are worthy individuals who make the transition from Eliza Doolittle to Henry Higgins on their own merits.
Of course, it can be argued that using language to pass judgement on a person is a kind of bigotry. But let’s face it. People who know their there from they’re will tend to do better than people who don’t. It’s like wearing neat, clean clothes to a job interview. It isn’t essential, but it sure helps.
As far as everyday, ordinary communication goes, as long as your audience easily understands what you mean, it’s all good. Correcting people’s spelling and grammar on Facebook is really rather rude and, I believe, constitutes trolling. (But, I confess, I’ve done it. I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes it’s just too painful to watch something you love being tortured.) However, as writers, we all know that it isn’t just what you are saying. It’s how you are saying it. Those of us for whom words are life and livelihood aren’t content merely to communicate. Thus, we care about the fine distinctions and nod with approval when we encounter others who do as well.
And sometimes, there are small victories. Our local supermarket has changed their fast aisle sign to read “fewer than 14 items”.
[This rant was inspired by a blog on the Clarion Writer’s site.]