I have been extremely bothered lately by people who correct others’ use of words.
For example, “literally”, which has literally been used in its hyperbolic sense since at least the 18th century (sorry everyone who gets their jollies from saying “you LITERALLY died?” like we’re not capable of understanding that the person telling us the story did not actually die).
As someone who has a degree in writing, writes professionally, and also creates style guides for a living, it’s super frustrating to hear these kinds of things, and even worse to encounter them in articles plastered across the web. It’s false information. It’s the grammatical equivalent of a quote about summer beach bods attributed to Abraham Lincoln.
It’s frustrating, and at times straight-up painful, because language is a deep and important part of being alive on this planet. Human language is a global art project every one of us takes part in every day, whether we’re speaking, signing, writing, singing, or finding other ways to communicate thoughts and ideas to each other.
It’s tied to our history on the planet, and every word we say (or “say”, if we’re not speaking-speaking) connects us to ancestors from thousands of years ago, and thousands of miles away. If you use words like banana, beef, tote, cross, galore, phoney, slogan, whiskey, sofa, cushy, khaki, violin, cartoon, hug, brainwashing, and ketchup, you dip into the soil of every continent on this planet, whether you genetically hail from there or not.
And every day, human language changes. People spell things with more letters, fewer letters, different letters; they connect different words to each other and use words in new ways to express their feelings; they create completely new words from out of the ether, or out of components they’re borrowing from our collective human history on Earth, and those words may never make it into any dictionary simply because they are only said in one place at one time.
I thought about this as I was walking up the path to my front door, and it gave me a lot of joy to think about. How cool is it that we connect to all of humanity just by saying hello to someone?
That’s why, when someone feels they have both the appropriate knowledge and the exclusive right to tell others how to communicate, it bothers me. Yes, for formal, professional writing, we should tap into the rules, it can’t just be punctuation anarchy out there, but we should also strive to let our written words mirror their real-life counterparts so that the meaning is clear. “Complete and utter” might be redundant, but it also stresses the emotion of whatever follows it. Ending a sentence with a preposition might not be OK in the rule books, but if you’re writing in your own voice, “it gave me a lot of joy to think about” is way better than “about which thinking gave me a lot of joy”.
So if you’re someone who gets anxious about how you speak, f all the haters. Tell them you are just harnessing the power of every human who has ever lived, then be like, “which means I am too busy to talk to you”, and walk away.
And if you’re a grammar nerd… well, it was a good run. Maybe you can correct people’s social media-induced rumors?