Who’s in charge of grammar?

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I get some flack about grammar and misspellings, sometimes deserved, often not. I do welcome it in a funny way, I learn more and I’m cool with that. Sometimes I do mess about, misspell on purpose, it’s perverse I know – goading people who are looking at what I type for all the wrong reasons. I can’t resist!

The grammar police

There are two types of grammar police though. There are sticklers – these are the true grammar police – people who just cannot stand any slip-up – even in a channel like Twitter, they’re probably a bit OCD in some way, it pains them. They’re defenders of the Queen’s English, and they’re not having someone like me not getting it right. Then there are the trolls – these lot will abuse me no matter, typos and grammar are a low bar and easy for them to hurl abuse – these are the ones I like to goad, as unlike the sticklers they’re most often stupid, easy to call out and easy fodder. Anyway, back to the point. When I get stick for grammar I regularly think to myself, who sets and maintains the rules for grammar – who is it that’s in charge? Who am I upsetting exactly?

So, who’s English is it anyway?

Who’s grammar are we (me) being measured against? Who allows new words that the public already use (without approval) to be suddenly “official”? Who has the power and authorises the change? Is there a secret group under Buckingham Palace, do those people still write with quills maybe? I ask this because the English language evolves all the time, new words get accepted into the dictionary and what was the norm changes fast. It kinda makes sense too when you think how many people speak English – after all – how do you possibly police it? I think that there are different perspectives on grammar – there cannot be one absolute – my sense is that if enough people use a word, or change how words are used in a context or alter how sentences are structured – then it’ll become the norm, it has to, no matter what the Queen or the grammar police think. It’s common sense?

It’s got to be a case of perspective?

From a historical perspective the English language has only ever changed…

  • Caveman didn’t speak English but they kicked verbal dialogue off – they’re the true grammar police, surely!?
  • Ye Olde England used words that don’t make any sense at all – the early English folk probably have the most right to tell us how to speak, though not according to the current experts. Interesting that, isn’t it?
  • Shakespeare invented words – including the word ‘puking’ - the public at the time then adopted those words, I bet that upset the grammar police at the time?
  • What about the youth generation of today, the people who talk all txt spk – they’ve no time for long words and they’re the next generation – do you think they’re going to conform, doubt it?

So what can we conclude from this perspective? It’s common sense – our language is not owned, it never has been, it’s not policeable over a few years let alone a few hundred. It’s certainly evolving faster than ever because of the volume of people openly communicating on new devices and in new channels, like Twitter.

Regional or class based perspective

  • The working class, and let’s face it – there are more of them, have specific ways of expressing themselves, and they wouldn’t change that. Regionally there are also different dialects and ways to construct sentences, there are even specific words used in those regions that make grammar even more complicated
  • On an international level, it’s naive to think that (like the Americans) countries who increasingly adopt English (the Chinese), won’t change or influence it. Look how American spelling of words is creeping in to the UK, it’s inevitable when the majority communicate a certain way in a connected digital world

So, who’s English is it, exactly – and who’s “right” when it comes to use of the English grammar, introducing new words or changes in international spelling? Did you know that we only use a limited number of words anyway, I once read that 200 basic words is all you need in ANY language to just get by, sure you’re not going to win a literary award, but it makes you wonder why we need as much as another 170,000. The reality is that it’s all pomp and ego, maybe to control and show a level of intelligence maybe, I don’t know. The fact is that the world’s changing and evolving, we’re multi-cultural, multi-lingual and now digital. And, at any point in our country’s history it has only even been changing, evolving (albeit much slower), multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Funny that.

What’s your take? As usual… let me know in the comments…

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106 comments
eddybet24
eddybet24

Let's face it Joey, It's not worth getting worked up about. Even BBC newsreader's constantly qualify superlatives amongst other common grammatical mistakes. The truth is even in 2013 Britain regional accents are what people are most judged by, regardless of their vocabulary and grammar. Sad but still true. Most southerner's check their pockets and car keys upon hearing a 'scouse' accent, and to be honest who can blame them.

MarkSterlingWright
MarkSterlingWright

I think Language is cultural. As England being a trading country first for Europe then for the rest of the world the language has always had to be an amazingly flexible language adopting Anglo, French, Scandinavian, Latin, etc. Joey what you have to remember is we made a language that is a very strong tool for commence, world trade, literature, etc.

 

I personally believe that one way to really excel in this world is to be flexible in the way we speak. Expression of one's thoughts can only be truly portrayed if we have different levels of words. 

 

We shouldn't simplify the words we have nor should we strive to be lazy. In 1984 by George Orwell the destruction of words meant the inability to describe how we truly feel. 

FrancoisSans
FrancoisSans

Hi Joey! I think you might like today's article on American English grammar fascists : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/28/your-in-america-grammar-fascists.

I'm a French-English-Spanish translator, editor and proofreader and my daily job is to make sure that all linguistic norms are properly applied in every text I'm asked to work on. I'm kind of obsessed with linguistic mistakes, and I get paid for that! Some people may say I'm from the grammar police, but on the other hand, if everyone wrote in perfect English/French, I'd go out of business haha. As you rightly point out, languages change over the years. New words are created every year, and whether we like it or not, they become the norm after a while. It is everyone's role to contribute to this evolution of languages, whether you're a footballer-columnist, a journalist, a linguist, or a random citizen.

KyleAlexanderYoung
KyleAlexanderYoung

 ' I once read that 200 basic words is all you need in ANY language to just get by'.. ARE Joey.. ARE. If you want my honest opinion I think the subject is boring and you've probably got plenty more useful things to do. 

joewalshrocks
joewalshrocks

I am probably someone who could be called a member of the grammar police, as I am a stickler for correct grammar and punctuation (the misuse of apostrophes drives me mad!) .  However, the difference between me and the people who scream abuse at you for the odd typo is that I'm not so rude as to tell someone off for making a minor error.  I spot them, but I wouldn't dream of pointing them out as how you spell is nothing to do with me and I don't have the right to criticise you or anyone else for getting the odd thing wrong.

stellarossaCPCU
stellarossaCPCU

The stuff that bugs me is stuff that was taught in school and should be burnt into one's brain. 'of' instead of 'have', 'your' instead of 'you're', 'to' instead of 'too', all very obvious yet abused online every day.

 

SimonFink
SimonFink

'Kinda' is cool but 'would of' is moronic.  I think that sums up neology for me.

 

Textese is ok but poor spelling and grammar often lead to misunderstanding.

 

Sticklers are the custodians of the English language.  Good on them.

3Lions
3Lions

You know I've loved watching this conversation progress. Lots of different types conveying their thoughts. The internet is truly a wonderful thing from this perspective. Could someone please send me a link to the entry by Leonardo? It seems I might have missed it.

TheRealPhilHolt
TheRealPhilHolt

Enforcing prescriptive grammar is a form of OCD, and for @piersmorgan is also about constant attention-seeking, a classic sign of insecurity.  Language is in a constant state of flux and always was, spelling and grammar were only standardised when the printing press was invented.  So to everyone who feels the need to constantly correct and patronise, get your head out of your a**e and learn something worth learning.  You're missing the point about language in the first place; it's not about conforming to some BS rules, it's about communication.  Only very rarely does incorrect spelling or grammar result in misunderstanding.  This might not be good enough for a legal document but it sure is good enough for everyday use, and if we ever go back to actually speaking to each other, it won't even be relevant .  The "proper" use of apostrophes and semi-colons does not meaningfully enhance the point being made.  There's no such thing as "perfect" English except that created by the education system for self-serving purposes.  So what if I got all "As"?  I'm still s**t at football.  In summary, well said Mr Barton.  You're similar to, but different from, a lot of today's professional footballers.

3Lions
3Lions

My oh my!

 

I'm fairly sure I'm a stickler & not a troll! I am a little anal when it comes to grammar Joey. But I'm also a former IT guy, now a learning director, hell bent on using social  media to help drive forward knowledge transfer & learning development within a large company. So I see the value of short-forms (syl, lol, bff, etc.).

 

Perhaps one day common text short forms will dig themselves so deep into our culture that they will appear in formal letters & business documents. I've got a funny feeling that I'm going to be pushing up daisies when that actually happens though. I think the web has a few more iterations to go before any such abomination happens.

 

I do get really pissed when I see morons using your platform to stimulate what they think is intelligent dialog though (& they can't even string together a freaking sentence)! You've got a number of them on this site Joey & you have a bit of a problem if you don't mind me saying so!

 

I mean you (personally) write well when you want to. And when you want to be taken seriously I can see that you take the time & effort to make sure your writing is intelligible & grammatically correct. You add a bit of humour from time to time to make your reading more engaging, but even your funny stuff is written properly when the article means something to you.

 

So let me ask you, what is the point of showing an intelligent side to Joey Barton when you allow all sorts of plankton to post really stupid responses to your articles? On one hand your site generates value because you're talking about serious stuff (& quite well I should add). But then your site loses impact when you allow such angry "Richards" the opportunity to rant on in such an inarticulate way! If I wanted to know the opinions of an amoeba I'd go see what David Attenborough's blog looks like!

 

You know I remember the day when the most northern accent you would get on the BBC would be John Noakes on Blue Peter. It was a novelty that was later corrected by Auntie Beeb to reflect a more modern culture. Nowadays you get scousers, & yorkies, & jocks, & boggies, & taffies, & all sorts plying their trade within this great British institution.

 

I daresay social media will affect the way we communicate in the long term. It is bound to. But there is always going to be a need for clarity of communication; & whenever there is you can guarantee that those spastics who can't "right proply" are going to "rite-@-back-of-q".

 

Cheers M'Dears

Davey

PaulMac
PaulMac

Hi Joey,

 

Nobody expects footballers to speak or write in perfect English. You're professional athletes and your skills lie elsewhere.

 

The reason you get more stick than most other players for your mistakes (and they are mistakes – let’s not pretend they're deliberate) is that you style yourself as a deep-thinking, cultured anti-footballer. 

 

You make political references, quote philosophers and comment on society. Sometimes you do have interesting things to say. But between all of that, you make elementary spelling/grammar mistakes – the kind that would embarrass 10-year-old kids. It completely undermines your credibility, and distracts people from any good stuff you might have to say.

 

You're right on one point: English is constantly evolving. But the building blocks of English grammar never change. So, every time you write/tweet things like:

 

- Hope your well mate (instead of "hope you're well mate)

- I should never of signed for QPR (instead of "I should never have signed for QPR")

- Their a bunch of helmets (instead of "they're a bunch of helmets")

 

... you're making basic, primary-school-level mistakes. It's not bending the rules – it’s just wrong.

 

So here's what you should do: listen to the criticism, learn from it and try to improve. People will instantly respect you more. And if you can apply that approach to your football career too, then all the better.

 

PM

badwolf
badwolf

This is the subject that gets right on my flamming nerves, at the end of the day it's a social media site, whether it's twitter or facebook, who cares if it's spelt correctly or not, if you think it's spelt wrong then who caresd, if you don't like it, unfollow me or don't read what i right, i just see these as annally retentive people, who have nothing better to do than nit pick over a person's spelling, it's the "oh i cannot abide people who use grammer incorrectly" WHO CARES, has twitter turned into an English exam? are you a teacher grading my work? no then i don't want to know about whether my granmer is correct or not.Go get on with your own sad lives and let others get on with theirs.

shaneehickey
shaneehickey

Yes Joe, you are quite right in many respects.  However, you do one thing that gets on my nerves regularly, I only ever encountered it in England but it is now creeping into Ireland.  This is, not knowing the difference between OF and HAVE.  To say "I would of" when you mean "I would've" does not make sense (Have being abbreviated to 've)

 

Whilst English is an evolving language, this is just incorrect.  It shows that you have language skills but you weren't paying attention in school when it came to learning how to write it down!

debsmcd1
debsmcd1

This is a good piece on ur website, thats 4sure.  Cant get why people take the time to correct the grammer of others when times have changed with the use of moble phone tech like texting etc & almost everyone uses short hand quick texting to get their point accross quickly.  Wonder does the grammer police go 2 the extreme of correcting every1 who texts them 

prescottrh
prescottrh

On a different note, Tevez should have been banned for punching you, I think the FA are weak as water for not doing anything with that. Last season I enjoyed watching David Luiz howlers, Ballotelli's moments but right at the end you topped it off with that mental moment. Takes some doing to to beat those other 2 but you really stepped up to the mark there Joey. Kudos.

prescottrh
prescottrh

Dialect is fluid, I agree with you on that but punctuation is not. I think that the proper use of punctuation is actually pleasing to the eye. There cannot be much worse in writing that a big wall of teenage txt speak with no paragraphs etc.

 

As for the original question of, "Who is in charge?". Grammar is, it is a set of rules that are to be followed in order that we may convey our thoughts into words properly. It is the result of all the previous people you refer to from cavemen right through to when school was made compulsory or certainly became more widespread and was no longer just for the rich.

 

I really hope we do not enter a time when txt speak becomes the norm, if we do then it'll be like living in a World of Warcraft forum or something akin to it, huge walls of text that you simply do not even try to bother reading.

SimonPRepublic
SimonPRepublic

The title was correct where "Who's" is short for "who is" but I was referring to the second sub-title and third paragraph. Always get your Mrs to proofread something; women are much better at picking up that shit than us ;)

SimonPRepublic
SimonPRepublic

I was with you until I realised you'd used "who's" instead of "whose" and now I'm writing this instead of reading the rest of your post. Here endeth the first lesson on good grammar and spelling :-) 

michealjroberts
michealjroberts

Could I just add: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The best example of how misunderstanding literary devices can lead to something extreme. However, this is not the fault of the writer. It is the fault of the reader. The reader has the responsibility to understand or take meaning, not the writer. I hope that helps/cements your points! x

michealjroberts
michealjroberts

Joey: the original grammar police is a man named Pāṇini. (Google it) ((I hope you see what I did there, "Google it" is now an accepted phrase. Which essentially means "Search the internet for a topic.")) I've just googled strawberry fields forever. But just remember, nothing is real. Nothing to get hung up about. Please also read: Sonnet CXXXVII. First use of an oxymoron. What is the origin of the word oxymoron? Oxy - greek for sharp. Mora - greek for dull. SHARP/DULL! It's all idylls for the king, Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

Jcvtrfc
Jcvtrfc

I've thought about this myself! Same applys to swere words, who decides weather a word is "bad" or not?

femalegooner
femalegooner

All languages (not only English) evolve all the time and no-one can do anything about it, which is why language is so great! Of course there has to be a standard written languages for official purposes because of all the fascinating regional differences. The first dictionary of English wasn't even published until the 18th century. Up until that point everyone spelt words however they wanted, and somehow everyone miraculously survived! People who correct others' use of language are again just looking for another way in which to make themselves feel superior. If you take such offence at such a trivial matter you probably shouldn't following celebs on Twitter, etc. It just goes to show what a decadent, mollycoddled existence we lead when people can get so wound up about this kind of stuff. Bet you don't get many homeless people or refugees having a meltdown about incorrect use of an apostrophe.

cabaye
cabaye

@mbond   spot on,ever been to Canterbury cathedral?you just can't read the writing in there,all middle ages,it's amazing how much the english language has changed since then,so divent taak ti me iboot thu english langwidge

BocktheRobber
BocktheRobber

Joey, you don't seem to understand the difference between spelling and grammar.  Why is that?

Tokyo_christo
Tokyo_christo

 @lordf34  "Apostrophes, for example, are their to denote a difference between plural and possession; this distinction is taught in schools", is almost immediately followed by, "Spelling is a further consideration: the difference between' their', 'there' and 'they're' is also taught in schools - primary schools at that. Is any such misuse ignorance? you may think so - I cannot possibly comment....."

Do you see the problem? Sorry, I don't normally get involved either but it annoys me when people stick their oar in without knowing the (basic) rights and wrongs themselves.

alfi
alfi

Joey, I agree that it''s stupid to react to spelling mistakes in this medium but there are words which are just wrong. one of the reactions mentions my biggest dislike: the use of "should of" when it should be "should have". Why does it annoy me? Because it shows, if nothing else, a lack of respect for the language.

On the other hand, I must add, as an Englishman living in Holland, It pains me to see how slovenly the people here handle their language. The rules are there, not so you can be fined for ignoring them as in so many things these days, but as a guide for good communication. SMS en twitter do not fall into the category of good communication!!

j166429
j166429

I don't think the grammar police dispute the fact that a laguage evolves over time. I think what they do get annoyed at are those who insist on using "their", when they mean "there" or "they're" or when "Of" is used as a verb as in "they should of done better" (it's "have"!!!). It might prevent somebody from understanding a couple of senetences, but if you going to write something put a bit of effort in. I'm not talking about the odd misspelled word I'm on about basic grammatical errors  What if you're playing football with somebody and they insist in being in an off-side position? You'd politely explain the off-side rule and if they continued you'd probably give them a b@llocking....well it's the same with the grammar police. Rules are there (not their!!!) for a reason... 

Logsyefc
Logsyefc

Interesting topic, which definitely needs addressing. I find myself a bit of a stickler when it comes to spelling and grammar. It may sound ridiculous but when I notice a mistake I get a shooting pain from my eyes to my brain, which leads to my eyes feeling like they are crossed. Although spelling mistakes causes me mass irritation I would never pull someone up on it for two reasons. 1) Some people have major difficulties in reading and writing and me highlighting their errors could do more harm than good. 2) I am not the best speller/writer. I am guessing this blog is influenced by people who give you stick (which I can't really comment on because I haven't witnessed the abuse) also the obnoxious Piers Morgan who is notorious for correcting people's tweets. This clown enjoys insulting and belittling people, the question is what department of the grammar police is he in? Stickler or Troll? How can someone get so much enjoyment from continuely telling people of their meaningless mistakes? Is he covering up his own insecurities and needs that sense of self importance? Well I think it goes deeper than that! Piers has made no secret via his twitter that he is a serial argumentor. Sometimes he gets himself into arguments in which he can't get out of and that is when words and grammar gets scrutinised by the former BGT judge. So there you have it Piers Morgan and his firm of grammar warlocks are insecure and use it to get out of arguments. They are very much apart of the shit house department of the grammar police.

3Lions
3Lions

 @MarkSterlingWright I like that Mark for a number of reasons:

 

1. English is the global language of business & trade, & it is a hard language to learn. So we should not be making it harder for other cultures to learn it when it is so difficult! Did you know that China will soon become the #1 English speaking country in the world?

 

2. Its great that English is so flexible and that it incorporates new words & phrases from time to time (e.g. did you "Google" it?). Adding modern words & phrases (non-mainstream) to our compositions is great, but it is exactly why we "should use grammar" to emphasize we "understand context" and "we set it for our reader".

 

3. I saw an earlier comment that not adding an apostrophe does not indicate stupidity, just a lack of care! A number of other people agreed with this statement. Really?!?!

 

4. If I'm reading a composition and I see poor grammar I don't jump down the writers throat, but I do begin to look at the whole passage to see whether it's worth pursuing.

 

5. The reason is this. We're not reading content just for the sake of it. We're doing it to stimulate a need of some description. More often than not we're simply "looking for information" (ask Microsoft - This is one key reason they built the SharePoint platform).

 

6. So if I'm looking for information or taking part in a conversation like this one (to either learn myself or help someone else do so) I want to ensure that my sources are credible.

 

7. Let me ask you this. If I'm doing an article on "grammar" for school and I quote Joey Barton's site (and perhaps this conversation as my source) how credible do you think that will be? Nothing against the site & I enjoy the dialog. Just making a point.

 

Cheers,

Davey

3Lions
3Lions

 @FrancoisSans Based on this weeks coverage on "Auntie Beeb" everyone should understand when I say:

 

leesten veeri-caaarrefuleee - I weel say zis only once! Allo, allo, zeez eez nightawk calling :-)

Joey B
Joey B

 @joewalshrocks Yes I don't see the problem with your perspective, it can wind me up a little but as you say its all in perspective, whenever I tweet and make a mistake with grammar I am instantly greeted by the "grammar police" keen to get a quick win! I often do it on purpose now just to keep them on their toes. Thanks for the post. JB

SimonPRepublic
SimonPRepublic

 @debsmcd1

 

This is a good piece on your website, that’s for sure. Can’t understand why people take the time to correct the grammar of others when times have changed with the use of mobile phone technology like texting etc; almost everyone uses shorthand quick texting to get their point across quickly.  I wonder do the grammar police go to the extreme of correcting everyone who texts them?

El Barone
El Barone

 @j166429 there are at least three "basic grammatical errors" in your comment. Can you find them?

j166429
j166429

@El Barone @j166429 I think you'll find there are two typos (or spelling mistakes if you like) and one missed out word. Not grammatical errors. You're as bad as Joey for not knowing your spelling from your grammar!

j166429
j166429

@El Barone Fair do's mate. I do actually agree with you, in the main. ;-)

El Barone
El Barone

 @j166429  @El I am all for bettering ones self, I just think that some Grammar Nazis are a little vehement with their responses. I just think that their one upmanship says more about them than it does about the person they are exposing. I like to see myself as an anti grammar nazi (lack of capitals is deliberate), and shall spend all eternity seeking out Grammar Nazis and correcting them on their own grammar, spelling or punctuation.

ps. I made up the quote from Webster's dictionary in the hope that you would spend hours trying to find it and/or try and argue the point.

Stay lucky!

j166429
j166429

@El Barone I'm not against people making mistakes. That's how we learn. However, I'm sure if Joey was a football coach, I would expect him to point out if my technique wasn't correct. That way I would be able to better myself. It's exactly the same with the grammar police...well most of them. To be honest if people don't want to better themselves, I don't really care.... (the fourth elipse is a "full stop") :-)

El Barone
El Barone

 @j166429  @El Punctuation is a subset of grammar in that it is one of the rules that defines the grammatical structure of a language - Webster's Dictionary.

 

In any event, the point you seemed to have missed or deliberately side stepped is that you are being critical of others and asking them to "put a bit of effort in" when writing but your own post is littered with errors itself.

 

I just think it is a touch arrogant and if you read my posts/comments below, there are other possible reasons for people not being able to make a distinction between these words (eg. there, their or they're).

 

More often than not these self-proclaimed "Grammar Nazis" are doing nothing more than massaging their egos by pointing out people's mistakes. That appeared to be the tone of your post so I thought it would be fun to point out to you that there were errors in your own post, which some would see as humourously hypocritical (your post, that is, not my subsequent comment)

femalegooner
femalegooner

 @j166429  @El Careful mate, you're gonna be in trouble with "El Barone" for missing off the 2nd parenthesis in your last comment! ;-)

j166429
j166429

@El Barone Hmmm. I think you'll find that they are errors of punctuation, not grammar! Once Joey (and the others know when to use there, their and they're we can move on to punctuation.

El Barone
El Barone

I think not.

 

1. "I'm not talking about the odd misspelled word I'm on about basic grammatical errors", should have at least a comma after the word "word".

2. There should be a full stop between "errors" and "What"

3. Elipses should only contain three full stops.

 

There you have it, at least three grammatical errors.

 

Turns out I do know my spelling from my grammar after all!

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