Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Are Hard Times Breeding Language Snobbery?

I confess. It does bother me when I encounter grammatical mistakes in advertisements, uttered nonchalantly by media personalities, or written on public signs or forms.

Perhaps that's to be expected ... I am an academic coach, after all.

But are heightened levels of stress and anxiety due to the current world economic crisis making irritated and obnoxious language snobs out of more regular folk?

Obsession with others' language blunders may, in fact, to be on the rise. As personal circumstances fall increasingly beyond our own control, it can be strangely consoling for many to know the "right way" to say or write something and even to browbeat others into adopting correct usage and orthography.

A recent piece at msnbc.com explores this idea more deeply:

But while blunders and bloopers have ever exasperated the spelling snobs and grammar grunions of the world, our recent woes — housing foreclosures, massive layoffs, rising debt and war — may be ratcheting up the pressure some feel to seize control of something (anything!), even if it’s just a properly placed comma.

“Hanging on to some kind of rule might be comforting to people,” says Bethany Keeley, a grad student from Athens, Ga., who runs The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. “People are looking for something they can control and ‘What should we do about our foreign policy?’ is a lot more complicated a question than ‘Should the period go inside or outside the quotation mark?’”

While it's obvious that too much language nagging is too much, I think it's clear that sloppy usage can go too far as well.

In recent years, leaders and role models in government and elsewhere have practically made a career out of mangling language ... and seem almost proud of it, denigrating those who prefer to speak or write with care and skill (See Bushisms and Palinisms).

The moral?

Neither a language snob nor slacker be.


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