Are you a grammar nerd? Before you answer, it’s important to proclaim that there is a big difference between a grammar nerd and a grammar troll.
Grammar nerds are the good guys.
The English-speaking world needs and even reveres its grammar nerds—the people who can explain to the rest of us the difference between an em dash and an en dash and when to use them. They know when to use affect or effect and betweenor among. They never confuse “its” (the possessive) and “it’s” (the contraction of “it is.”) They even enjoy a unique genre of humor: The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense. Perhaps the biggest test of grammar nerdery, however, is this: grammar nerds have a strong opinion about the Oxford comma and they will vigorously defend it. (If you don’t know what the quibble is all about, you’re definitely not a grammar nerd.)
Grammar nerds make the best editors and proofreaders, for one thing, because they’re skilled at using punctuation appropriately. They are vigilant about the placement of commas, apostrophes, and semicolons, knowing that their misuse can actually change the meaning of a sentence. Consider, for example, how meaning changes along with the placement of even the lowly hyphen:
She will work twenty four-hour shifts.
She will work twenty-four hour shifts.
She will work twenty-four-hour shifts.
Really good grammar nerds don’t get so lost in the details that they lose sight of the big picture—the intended message. Clearly, there aren’t enough “big picture” grammar nerds in the world. If there were, humorous flubs like these would never see the light of day:
- A Tails magazine cover caption beneath a photo of Rachel Ray and her dog: Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.
- A political poster: We plan to cut all homeless people in half by 2025
- A Goodwill sign: Your Donation Just Helped Someone. Get a Job.
- The Alameda Sun (California) newspaper: City Manager Tapes Head to District Attorney
Unfortunately, some grammar nerds devolve into grammar trolls. This going over to the dark side is not a good thing. Grammar trolls are the bad guys.
But what exactly is a grammar troll? The experts at Grammarly.com say there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to the grammatical errors of others. Grammar nerds, the good guys, call attention to mistakes in a way that is respectful, polite, and appropriate. Their motive is to be genuinely helpful. Grammar trolls, the bad guys, flag the same mistakes, but in a way that is sarcastic, rude, mocking, and/or insulting. They demean the person who made the error instead of simply correcting the mistake. Brittany Ross, who blogs for Grammarly.com, says that grammar trolls “do what they do because they feel smart when they shame others.” They’re not really defending the English language; they’re trying to puff themselves up. To these people, Ross says rather bluntly, “Misspelling a word, making a grammatical error, or even writing a sentence that’s hard to understand doesn’t make you stupid. But insulting someone for making a mistake does make you a grammar troll. And a jerk.”
Ross and her coworkers at Grammarly are about as pro proper grammar as it gets. But the organization is adamant that no one should be hurt or shamed for poor grammar or making a mistake. After all, they point out, some people are not native English speakers and may just be learning the language. Others have disabilities that hinder their ability to type or write. Their advice to grammar trolls, and by extension to all of us as well, is, “BE NICE. Don’t be rude. Don’t be mean. Don’t be condescending. Just be nice. Tell someone about the mistake if it’s important, and if it’s not, let it go.”
In other words, kindness always trumps good grammar. So be gone, grammar trolls!
Brittany Ross, “It’s Time to End Grammar Trolling,” grammarly.com/blog/stop-grammar-trolls/
“Happy National Grammar Day! Are You a Grammar Troll?” freelancewritinggigs.com/2017