Have you ever, out loud, corrected anyone’s grammar, spelling, or pronunciation? Telling them that they shouldn’t say “teef” when they mean teeth. Or must use a singular verb with an uncountable noun. Or suggesting they “try to do” instead of “try and do”?
It’s for their own good. You’re doing them a favour by setting them on the right path. But people don’t take this sort of thing well.
Let me tell you a terrible story. To be honest, it is a tale in which I don’t behave very well. But in my defence I was severely provoked.
A few years ago, in a local branch of one of the nation’s biggest supermarket chains, I attempted to inform the staff that they had misused an apostrophe. The fresh foods aisle had a sign that declared: “Fish isn’t just for Friday’s”.
I told you I was provoked, didn’t I?
I buttonholed a shelf stacker to pass on my grammatical wisdom. He looked at the sign, looked at me, looked back at the sign, and said it had come from head office as if that made it sacrosanct.
But I insisted that, wherever it had come from, it was wrong. Fridays (plural) doesn’t take an apostrophe. He continued to look puzzled but said he’d alert his manager. I’m not entirely sure he knew what an apostrophe was.
I waited defiantly under the offending sign.
The frostily polite manager, when she eventually swept into view, promised that “of course” she would have the sign changed, and that this was, indeed a “very important” matter to have brought to her attention. She was “so, so thankful” to me for taking the time out of what must be a very busy day to enlighten her and her staff.
I’m not the type to submissively suffer such a salvo of sarcasm.
With a reciprocally condescending mien I assured the management ice maiden that if she had any further trouble with basic spelling or punctuation then she could email me – or perhaps phone if she didn’t think she could spell the words she was struggling with.
I left in high dudgeon (great phrase) my chin up, and making straight for the door caring not one whit for the biscuits and teabags I had intended to purchase. Hah! You can have the English usage advice free but I’ll spend my ginger snaps money elsewhere, thank you very much.
People hate to be corrected on their spelling or spoken English. Somehow the “bad” person in the exchange becomes the one who points out the error.
I take this, overall, to be a good thing. I’d like to think that many people believe their spelling and grammar to be quite good, and are embarrassed when told it isn’t. Perhaps they might take more care next time.
Word of the week
A dishonourable or despicable man. EG: “No doubt that manager described me as a dastard when relating the tale to her friends.”
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org