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From Stephen Fry’s podcast on language, which I mean I know but this is how I feel channeled through Mssr. Fry’s British accent:

Words are your birthright. Unlike music, painting, dance and raffia work you don’t have to be taught any part of language or buy any equipment to use it. All the power of it was in you from the moment the head of daddy’s little wiggler fused with the wall of mummy’s little bubble. So use it. 

When a person finds out somehow that I read books, they “he or she”, perhaps, is what I am going for here suddenly begin to make comments on how it makes them nervous to write me emails, afraid that misspellings or misused commas will deter me entirely from finding them interesting. This could not be further from the truth. I hold no strong opinions on grammar except for this one idea that it is completely contextual: if the idea is to convince someone to pay you bimonthly, use language correctly; if we’re discussing opinions on narwhals or writing blog posts by all means use both a colon and a semi-colon in one sentence.

Once this comment is present, however, I will become abnormally nervous about my own spelling and grammar and will grow to resent said person for the reluctant development of correct-usage-hyperawareness. No good comes from this, and I will become emotionally stunted, resulting in a solid handful of occurrences of complete email paralysis. I will blame you.

I imagine the laxity of my opinions comes from attending a performing arts magnet school in the early 90s, a time ripe for experimenting with whole language just before its downswing in popularity. I learned to write by doing it incorrectly, or “incorrectly,” and believe I owe every ounce of understanding just how remarkable language can be to this kind of pedagogy. Learning patterns before learning rules ingrains things like the way real people speak into your mind and makes language above all an experience, not a particularly constructed thing. That comes later, when you learn to use spelling and grammar to make the experience better. 

As this goes I will never, ever correct someone’s grammar in person because it is both embarrassing and entirely uninteresting. Exactly as he says in the podcast, there is no “right” or “wrong” way of speaking just as there is no “right” or “wrong” way of dressing. I become jealous of speech patterns in the exact way I become jealous of a nice coat, so I have no reason to take that from anyone. If I find your coat ugly or you have an inclination to use the phrase “Where you at?” repeatedly, do not consider me an obstacle. Mostly I am just for the using of words, whatever that means to anyone. 

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  1. By tothesound » All of these things are right on December 16, 2009 at 8:37 pm

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