Correctile dysfunction

When it comes to matters of grammar and pronunciation, I observe two kinds of people:  those who appreciate being corrected so they can learn from their mistakes and those who are offended by being corrected.

One might argue that it depends on the tone and context of the correction. Certainly, most people would not care to be schooled in a harsh or a humiliating manner. My experience is that some people are open to learning and some are not. Somewhere in between are those who say they appreciate being reminded of the correct way to write and speak, but turn around and resort to old habits. I guess that’s why they’re called habits.

I put myself in the first category. While it is never fun to learn I’ve committed a grammatical error or mispronunciation, especially as someone who claims to know a fair amount about such things, I desire to learn and improve. I admit there are rules I don’t understand. There are several I have trouble remembering. This is one reason for the Red Pen Invitation I extend on this blog’s About page and also why I confess to being on a lifelong journey to get it right. I admit it stings a bit when a reader calls me on an error or challenges a statement, but I’m grateful for the lesson.

When I choose to correct others—usually family members or close friends—I try to be judicious and kind. As much as I’d like, I don’t correct anyone’s children but my own. Believe me, for every time I hear or read a loved one’s error, I let slide another nine. Where I step on shaky ground is in assuming everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about getting it right.

What about those in the second category? Those who say, essentially, “I’ve pronounced it that way since I was seven and there’s no way I’m going to start changing now.” Or “I know that’s the rule but it doesn’t make sense to me, so I am going to keep saying it incorrectly.” Or “Frankly, I don’t care what the difference is between ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ ‘its’ and ‘it’s,’ or when to use ‘I’ and when to use ‘me.’” “I don’t care.”

What I’d ask readers to consider is:  which kind of person are you when it comes to being corrected? Provided the corrector is polite and judicious, are you open or are you offended?

If you’re in the former group, do you have a process for remembering what you’ve learned? Do you write it down or come up with a clever mnemonic? Create an occasion to use it in a sentence?

If you’re in the latter group, what’s your reasoning for closed ears? Do you consider critique a nuisance or a blow to the ego? Are you apathetic about such matters? Or do you believe correct grammar and proper speech are unimportant?

My eyes and ears are open. Tell me and maybe I’ll stand corrected.


Filed under All Things Wordish

9 responses to “Correctile dysfunction

  1. Sheree Moyer

    I am happy to be corrected, however, I am awful at remembering. 🙂 And the older I get the less ability I seem to have to spell correctly. Used to be aces in that department. The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be!

  2. Great post.

    I think I fall into a third group. I hate being corrected, but it isn’t because I don’t believe I can make errors, it is because I am always embarrassed by my gaffs.

    One of the reasons I make as many errors as I do is that they are invisible to me. That is to say, invisible in MY writing. Why? Because my brain is conceited enough to think I’ve got it right, and it therefore corrects any errors I make as I READ them back. I know what I meant, so my brain fills in the blanks.

    This is also the reason why we (writers in general) are not so good at editing our own work.

    I often claim that strict adherence to grammar rules, punctuation, spelling, and formatting are a crutch for the unimaginative, but deep inside, I know that isn’t true.

    I want to be right, and it galls me no end when I’m not.

    Oh, how I wish there was a typo catcher in these comment editors.

  3. You can correct me anytime. I know that I make quite a few mistakes when it comes to grammar. i beg you, correct me.

  4. Margie

    When I was living in the Middle East, we got into a debate about how to pronounce aluminum. The East Coast American who had lived in New Orleans and Scotland pronounced it one way. The Indian who had lived in Africa pronounced it another. The Australian thought they were both wrong, and I, as a Canadian who had lived in Texas and England, really wasn’t sure any more… Of course, the word is also spelled aluminium, which helped to explain part of the difference.
    So, I think there are a number of ways to spell some words and a greater number of ways to pronounce them! Grammar and punctuation don’t vary nearly as much from country to country, though.
    I don’t mind being corrected, by the way.
    Speaking of spelling, one of your tags has an odd spelling!

    • Thanks, Margie, for your interesting perspective on international variations. Thank you especially for pointing out the spelling error in my tag; wouldn’t you know the word I misspelled was “spelling?!” I have fixed it, thanks to your correction.

  5. Polly

    I don’t mind being corrected. I make mistakes often, usually because my mouth works faster than my brain. Just today, in a quick review of MacBeth, I mixed up Malcolm and MacDuff’s characters from Act IV. Luckily one of the students caught me and I was able to fix any confusion.

    In writing, I consult a dictionary regularly, and still have errors on occasion. When it is something for public consumption I always ask for an editor. I have edited myself by reading the material backwards so I am not filling in context — they are just words, which helps. But another editor can’t hurt.

    Overall, I am an idea person who believes language is fluid. So I am more tolerant of some mistakes, as long as the piece is logical and/or creative. Poetic license abounds! Also, long live editors!

  6. Deirdre

    I think I straddle the Richard and Polly camp. I don’t hate being corrected but don’t love it either. I do take a certain pride in thinking that I know how to correctly speak and write. But a bit like Polly, my mouth works faster than my brain and am often mixing metaphores and prunciations. Great post.

    • Considering Deirdre has an English degree, as may Polly, who is an English teacher, I can’t imagine either of you needs correcting. Except maybe Deirdre’s “metaphores and prunciations.” 🙂

  7. Gail

    While I believe that grammar and punctuation are important, I also believe that other things are often more important. I do not think children of any age should persist in correcting their parents or other older people. I also think that room should be made for colorful regional expressions and accents. Is the correct word or pronunciation more important than your relationship with a spouse or friend? I will debate with a like-minded person but no longer argue heatedly. Word study is fascinating, but from now on I prefer to lead by example rather than waste my valuable time on pointless arguments.

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