The following is a verbatim excerpt from an e-newsletter, which I subscribe to, from Jane Straus on Grammarbook.com. Jane is also the author of “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.”
Resolutions for Word Nerds
Below you’ll find our New Year’s resolutions for self-appointed guardians of the English language. We language cops need our own code of ethics to protect us from ourselves and shield others from our self-righteousness.
The Stickler’s Ten Commandments for 2016
1) Thou shalt proofread. Proofreading your work is a dying art—but why is that? Do we really think that everything we write is effortlessly perfect on the first try?
2) No correcting someone’s informal correspondence. If you get an email that says, “We just want whats our’s,” stifle that impulse to respond with a dissertation on apostrophes. Maybe your correspondent is just kidding around—or didn’t proofread.
3) … And casual conversation gets a lot of leeway too. Language purists ought to ease off when people are just relaxing and making small talk. No one ever mistook a Super Bowl bash for a summit conference.
4) No using fancy words when simpler ones will do. A barrage of big words is impressive the way a mesomorph bench pressing six hundred pounds is impressive.
5) Always look it up. Twenty-first century technology makes it quick and painless to look up words like mesomorph. But for whatever reason, most people just won’t do it.
6) No correcting strangers. Grownups are so touchy nowadays.
7) Do correct your kids’ grammar. It’s not belittling if you do it right; they may even thank you someday. The English they hear all the time—from their peers, the media, even some teachers—sets a horrid example. Good English deserves equal time.
8) … But keep it private. Never give grammar lectures within earshot of innocent bystanders or service animals.
9) No excuses when you slip. We all make mistakes. If you’re nailed red-handed, don’t try to wiggle out of it.
10) Know what you’re talking about. Here is something your English teacher never told you: the rules change. So before you cry foul, how do you know you’re right? There are many myths about “proper” English floating around.
A century ago, contact as a verb was banned in polite society, and anyone who said, “I will contact you soon” was dismissed as a philistine. In the 1970s, hopefully was considered a ghastly vulgarity, and anyone who said, “Hopefully, the disco won’t be too crowded tonight” could be ostracized from the cool crowd. Today, no one has a problem with contact or
hopefully … but you may find yourself ostracized for saying “disco.”