English writer Mona Chalabi released a video this week that would have probably garnered a great deal of positive support…had she stopped filming it about halfway through. The Guardian reporter went on a tear against grammar snobs – the people in both the real world and on social media who seem to make it their life’s mission to point out every missing comma, every inappropriate use of quotation marks, and every misspelling they can find. “You know what I meant,” she says, and it’s a sentence we can all relate to.
Unfortunately, Chalabi doesn’t stop there. Rather than sticking to a sentiment we can all get behind – grammar Nazis should settle down – she goes one step further to make a very extraordinary argument.
“The people pointing out the mistakes are more likely to be older, wealthier, whiter, or just plain academic than the people they’re treating with condescension,” she says. “All too often, it’s a way to silence people and that’s particularly offensive when it’s someone who might already be struggling to speak up.”
Right. It’s not enough that grammar police officers be categorized as annoying; we have to pretend that they’re part of some conspiracy to shut down minority viewpoints. The only consolation is that of all the people in the world, Chalabi has to be the only one who actually believes this nonsense.
Oh. She isn’t.
Take Melissa Fabello at Everyday Feminism, who wrote in 2014 that the social justice movement would be better off without grammar snobbery. Fabello claimed that “purporting one form of English as elite is inherently oppressive.”
And here she is explaining why citing the rules of English is not appropriate:
As educated (and – okay – snarky) activists, we’re quick to respond to “According to the dictionary” arguments with “Who wrote the dictionary, though?” We understand that a reference guide created by a white supremacist, heteropatriarchal system does nothing but uphold that status quo.
Similarly, we have to use that line of thinking when talking about the English language: Who created the rules? And who benefits from them?
No one wants to defend those busybodies on Facebook who go looking for misplaced modifiers, but what the left is doing here goes well beyond social graces. Satisfied with the results of their war on morality, they now want to apply that same kind of relativism to the English language. From there, who knows where it will end?