Fixing other people's errors of grammar
A reader of this blog reports on a story in progress on the issue of correcting other people’s grammar, and whether it is a good idea.
The most obvious point to make is that unless you have been invited to do so, correcting someone else’s grammar sets you up as an obnoxious prig. No matter how badly correction may be needed, you are less likely to produce reform than resentment. It’s like correcting their pronunciation, their table manners, their dress, their personal hygiene. It strains the boundaries of polite behavior unless performed with exquisite tact.
Frankly, most of the people notable for correcting other people’s grammar are not famed for tact.
There is, beyond that, the additional hazard — surely familiar by now to readers of the harangues elsewhere on this blog — of an excellent chance that your correction will be misguided or flat wrong.
If, for example, you observe a distinction in your own writing between nauseous and nauseated, or healthy and healthful, you are certainly within your rights. But you would be prudent to examine what Jan Freeman of The Boston Globe has to say on the subject before you decide that these distinctions are rules you can impose on others. The split infinitive, the preposition at the end of a sentence, and none as a plural all involve prohibitions that even strict prescriptivists abandoned decades ago, and which survive only through brain-dead pedagogy in the schools.
No, the advice of two millennia remains practical: Remove the beam from your own eye before tackling the mote in your neighbor’s.