Not long ago, I found a bunch of old letters I’d written to my parents. They dated to the early-and-mid-80s when I was striking out on my own. They were full of confidence and professed a knowledge about work and the world that I don’t know I’d feel comfortable espousing now, so many years later. The older I get, the less I know for sure.
My disdain for the misplaced apostrophe is well known. In life’s little irritants, it comes second only to being confronted by someone’s uvula-bearing, open-mouthed yawn. I’m very sensitive to the yawn’s ability to drain my energy by proxy, and so I’ve been known to hide my face in its presence. I equate it with an in-your-face fart, actually, and some people’s breath makes the two expulsions not that much different.
But I digress.
Good grammar didn’t come easily to me. When I wrote Celebrity Tantrums back in 2002, I bought a grammar rules book and used it often. It’s not that I didn’t know the rules, but when you drill down into our silly English language, there are all sorts of little, niggling details. The only way to learn is to study, so I studied a lot. I referred to that book often and later bequeathed it to a cousin who expressed a desire to write more accurately and clearly. It’s the best $20 I invested in my writing career.
Now, back to those old letters.
Imagine my surprise when I noticed how often I used the apostrophe incorrectly. I’d write it’s when I didn’t mean it is and its when I did. I didn’t go hog-apostrophe-wild like some people do, putting it in every pluralization of every noun. But it happened often enough to prove that I didn’t have the rules down, yet.
My point is this: life is a journey. Knowledge is always accumulating. No one is perfect. We all – hopefully – evolve and grow. I have a reputation as a Grammar Nazi so in telling you this story, I hope I’m explaining that I’m really not. It’s my irritant and I’ve worked hard to fix my own grammar misconceptions and mistakes because it matters to me. I know that many people judge others on their poor grammar and happily call others out publicly. I do not and I don’t think that approach is helpful. (But if you put it on a sign or in a flyer or ad, well, all bets are off. When that’s your business, you really should know better!)
Not forgiving people for their mistakes, I think, comes from not being able to forgive ourselves for them. Expecting perfection is futile. I do wish that more people cared about using our language properly, but I’m also prepared to emit a silent Argh! here and there for the rest of my life!