In Which a Man Explains Grammar to Me, a Writer
I had an amusing Twitter conversation with someone the other day, and I felt it worth sharing because of the number of issues happening within. First, we have the usual problem of a language prescriptivist, someone who believes that the dictionary lays down a law of what words mean and how they should be used, as opposed to descriptivists who understand that language is a living thing and the dictionary merely describes it as best it can. I run into this type often, and in fact I used to be one back when I was a baby grammar nerd in grade school and believed that comprehensively understanding English syntax made me invincible. “Uh, I think you mean you couldn’t care less, as the ability to care less would indicate you are not yet at your lowest point of caring” is they type of thing I would say in the 6th grade. Yeah, I was a pretty popular kid.
I’m glad to say that I grew out of that as I learned about how language is really used in various contexts, and I figured out that the development of slang is actually really interesting, as opposed to something that just annoys me because “it just isn’t right.”
So that’s one aspect of the conversation to follow. The other is how people, in general, react to being corrected when they believe that they’re the ones who should be doing the correcting. This can be influenced by gender (I am a woman, being corrected by a man: see mansplaning) as well as age (I’ve found that for some people, the older they are, the more scared they tend to be of society changing in any way. This includes language, marriage laws, and Oreo flavors). When a person initiates a discussion with the belief that they are better than the other person, rationality flies out the window as soon as the other person demonstrates a disinterest in recognizing that perceived authority. See below for the entertaining way that ends up, and how not even hard scientific research can save the day.