Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Not to Do (to Me)

For your delectation, here is a link to an article in The Economist (strange as that may seem) about "The Dreaded Comma Splice."  I know that my readers are educated people who, of their own free wills, read things like this blog that won't get them anywhere, and that many probably know what a comma splice is.  The great thing, as is so often the case, is not just the article - though I liked it and read it of my own free will - but the comments.  Scan them.  You will see that there are more than enough grammarians in this world, and apparently none of them work at The Economist. 

Most delicious is the comment that asks whether there are any proofreaders at the magazine.  Now, a proofreader's job is to make sure that the galley faithfully renders the manuscript - it's copyreaders who, before the manuscript goes to print, correct grammar and format, mechanical things like that.  This is an example of how it is always dangerous to start correcting other people, especially online.

This little tempest caught my fancy because earlier today I had begun an idle thing that I didn't think would amount to a post titled -

What Not to Do (to Me) 

Wouldn't that be a great list? Things not to do, as opposed to these obnoxious to-do lists that have become a feature of the busy American life.  I am inspired to think of this subject by an unpleasant incident at a recent social occasion.  I was talking, just social chatter, not a big monologue, when Someone in the group interrupted to correct my grammar.  (Notice that there is no obscenity in that sentence.)  I'd said something like this "He told my friend and I . . . "  What I was going on to say is lost forever when Someone said, "Me.  It should be 'my friend and me,' because you are the object, not the subject."  And he wasn't even an English major.

If you want to have some kind of aggressive social tool for refined special occasions, this is a good way to take the wind out of someone's sails.  Although I have multiple degrees in English and writing credits, I was dead in the water, not because I used "bad grammar," because I was startled.  Later I spent some time speculating on Someone's aggression toward me.  My father's voice echoed from a long-ago day when I told him a kid was bullying me.  He snorted and said, "What'd you do to deserve it?"  I reminded him he is dead.

But there is always cause.  I thought I must have inadvertently sounded smart, something like that, and my acquaintance might have had the kind of problem some older men have when women step out of their place.  It is worth noting that this little incident put a drop of ink in the water surrounding that relationship.  There you are.  I'm not the only person who has trouble with right speech.


  1. Just smile and laugh and say Thank you...it will defuse the momentum.
    Not with any sign of sarcasm

  2. Maybe I would do that if I were at a podium. But in everyday life I'm not sure it's good for people to let them get away with stuff.

    1. People like this do it with people they love, too and karma has the final say usually bringing bigger problems with this habit. Maybe when you laugh you bring up yours(mine,too/talking to me/) own silly habits to aid in generating humor.
      In the grand scheme of things one never gets off..think Donald Trump.

    2. At the time I did laugh and sort of make a joke of it. But it made me uncomfortable. I am what I am, karmically hypersensitive.

  3. Melanie from Austin, TXNovember 9, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    This smells like shenpa to me! :) Have you seen this transcript of a talk by Pema Chodron about shenpa?

    And it's always a treat to quote Ms. Manners if the opportunity presents itself:

    "What is etiquette? And why is it so important?
    It’s important because we can’t stand the way that other people treat us. Although we want the right to be able to behave in any way we want. Somehow a compromise is in order, if you want to live in communities. If you live on a mountaintop by yourself, it’s not necessary. I make a distinction between manners and etiquette—manners as the principles, which are eternal and universal, etiquette as the particular rules which are arbitrary and different in different times, different situations, different cultures."

    "Is it ever acceptable to be rude?
    No. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to let people walk all over you. Etiquette does not render you defenseless. If it did; even I wouldn’t subscribe to it. But rudeness in retaliation for rudeness just doubles the amount of rudeness in the world."

    And I say...
    It's annoying and amazing to me how complicated it is to live with other human beings, and how what appears petty on the surface can be profound.

    1. So true. I'm seeing that the easy way is the heart way - if you really attend to other people and have compassion, you will not do harm. (They still might think you have poor manners, though, if you are too honest.)