When to Correct People’s Grammar Mistakes

This paper says “TSP Report.” I think you mean “TPS.”

For Christmas last year, I got a T-shirt that read, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” At first I thought it was a jerky gift (sorry, Jenny), but then I thought, “Eh, it’s true.” And now I kind of like it. As a copyeditor trained to spot every tiny error (Is that a hyphen instead of an en dash? No way, bugger.), I can’t help but see mistakes everywhere—on signs, in emails, in—gasp—news stories. I just can’t turn off the editor.

But when I spot an error in other people’s speech and writing, I usually silently correct them, instead of actually telling them they made a mistake. Correcting people’s grammar is a quick way to lose friends and become known as a stuffy know-it-all.

However, there are times when you should correct people’s grammar. I’ve outlined the whens and when nots below.

People learning English
If you know someone who is learning English as a second (or third or fourth) language, and they ask you to point out when they make mistakes so they can get better, then it’s okay. However, pay attention to their mood. If they’re talking about a fight with their boyfriend or a bad day at class, then that’s probably not the best time for a grammar lesson.

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Normally you should be hesitant about correcting coworkers’ mistakes. If you spot an error in a casual email, for instance, leave it. But, if you see a mistake that could have major consequences, politely point out the error when you have a moment alone with the colleague. One example of when it’s okay to explain an error would be if a co-worker asks you to look over a PowerPoint for a quarterly update meeting with the big bosses and you see they used affect when it should be effect.

Basically, if you fear a mistake will cause someone’s reputation to be at stake, point it out in a kind, nonjudgmental manner when you are in a secluded environment.

Significant others
I think it’s usually always okay to correct your significant other’s grammar—as long as they are allowed to make fun of you when you have to use a calculator to figure out a restaurant tip. However, if your partner asks you to stop, then do.

Friends and family
Don’t correct friends’ and family members’ grammar mistakes unless they ask you to. Otherwise, you may be minus a friend and stuck getting fruitcake at Christmas. If their mistakes really irk you, start a grammar blog and write about the errors there (wink, wink).

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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In Defense of Y’all

I mentioned on twitter yesterday (find me at @GrammarParty for tweets about grammar and cats and nerd stuff) that I’m going to start saying y’all more often. And I got some good-natured ribbing about it. “It’s my heritage,” I cried in defense via tweet.

I grew up in Appalachia, and though y’all is more often used in the southern parts of the United States, I did hear it as a child. Now living Minneapolis, which is more “civilized” and devoid of cows and other livestock, saying y’all makes me feel homey, almost like I can smell the manure on the cornfield by my old house every time I say it. (Apparently when one is homesick, even manure can bring good memories.) So I’m going to continue to say it. And that’s okay.

In case you were wondering, y’all is a legitimate word in the same way that ain’t is a word. People say it, so it’s a word. They’re both perfectly fine to use in conversation. I just wouldn’t encourage using it on a college admission essay, lest the mighty academics judge you to be unedjeecated.

But why I ask, dear readers, does y’all have a bad reputation? It’s simply a contraction of you all. While that may be redundant, is it any different, I ask, than the you guys I hear so frequently in the north? Or you lot, which people say in England? Y’all just gets bound up with all these bad stereotypes of the kind of people we envision saying it. Well, this y’all sayer does not wear jean overalls and does not have a piece of hay sticking out of her mouth. But if she did, that would be okay, too.

How to use y’all
Now that I’ve obviously convinced you that it’s okay to say y’all, let’s look at how to use it correctly.

Y’all is spelled like that. It’s not ya’ll. The apostrophe goes after the Y. Perhaps people get confused with the contraction for we will, which is we’ll, and thus misplace the apostrophe in y’all.

Also, there is some debate about whether y’all can be singular. The majority of authorities I checked seem inclined to say it is only plural. I agree. Since it’s a contraction of you all, the all lends itself to meaning more than one person.

Y’all revolution
If you’re feeling a bit feisty today, and are up for a debate, I encourage you to drop a y’all in conversation and gauge the listener’s response. If the listener thinks you’re silly for saying that, then ask why. If more than one person is in your group, perhaps say, “What’s so wrong with y’all, y’all?” You may find it will spark a lively conversation about words and stereotypes—and maybe, by the time y’all are finished, we’ll have world peace.

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
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Bricks, eggs, and nog

My favorite kind of nog

My favorite kind of nog

Regardless whether you find it palatable, eggnog is perhaps the beverage most identified with the Christmas holiday. Merriam-Webster defines it as: “a drink consisting of eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream, and often alcoholic liquor.” It notes the first usage as the year 1775.

But, eggnog—where did we get that name?

The egg part is pretty self-explanatory. But, the nog part is a bit more mysterious. A search of nog on Merriam-Webster’s main site brings the definition: “a strong ale formerly brewed in Norfolk, England.” It lists the first known usage of this word as the year 1693. The origin it lists as “unknown.”

However, this is not the only definition for nog. Webster’s unabridged online dictionary lists other definitions:

nog (noun): a wooden peg, pin, or block of the size of a brick; especially: a small block built into a wall as a hold for nails

nog (verb): to fill in (as between scantling) with brickwood

brick nog (noun): brickwork filled in between the timbers of a wood-framed wall or partition

And then there is always noggin, a slang term for the head. Webster’s also lists nog as being a shortening of noggin. So, perhaps, in the late 1600s, a bunch of construction workers in Norfolk went to the local pub after working with nog or doing nogging, drank too much ale, and in the morning their heads hurt so badly that they couldn’t even say whole words—they just held their noggins in their hands and said nog.

Then again, perhaps not. But I’d like to think that’s what happened.

Eat crow

Eat me, jerk.

The idiom to eat crow means to display total humility, especially when shown to be wrong.

Example sentence
Francis had to eat crow when his sister proved that elves did not live under his bed. He hung his head in shame because he thought for sure that he was correct.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, eat crow is traced back in American English to 1851. However, it is believed the saying started during the War of 1812.

Why crow?
The story goes that during the War of 1812, an American soldier killed a crow on British territory. When the crow’s owner discovered its death, he forced the soldier to eat the dead crow, thus humbling and humiliating the American soldier.

Crow eating facts
I’ve never eaten crow in the literal sense. But apparently, it tastes similar to duck. (I’ve never eaten duck, either.) Thanks to the interwebs, I found a site with instructions on how to prepare and cook crow, in case you might actually want to do that. Enjoy?

Squeezing blackheads out of kitty’s face

Postcard reads: “Are you in the jam, dearie?” “No! Mother, I’m just squeezing blackheads out of kitty’s face.”

I found this antique postcard (I think it’s from the 1930s) at an estate sale a couple months ago. I had to get it because . . . it’s just so weird. Why would someone make a postcard like this? And, what kind of person would actually send it to someone?

Then I got to wondering whether there is another meaning of blackhead that I didn’t know. Certainly, I thought, there couldn’t be a big market in the 1930s (or any time, I hope) for cards about facial secretions.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of blackhead is: any of various birds with more or less black about the head.

It gives the example of a scaup duck, which looks like this:

Webster’s (unabridged online) gives the second definition as: comedo. This is where I learned way more than I wanted to about facial blemishes. Comedo is the proper term for blackhead. Webster’s describes comedo as: a collection of dead cells and oily secretion that plugs a hair follicle and duct of an oil gland and is usually covered with a black dot.

Because I know you want to know more about comedo, here is the Online Etymology Dictionary’s explanation of the origin of comedo: Comedo in Latin means “glutton,” which comes from the Latin comedere, which means “to eat up.” Comedere is an old name for worms that “devour the body.” It came to be used in a medical sense because it was thought that blackheads resemble these worms.

Yeah, gross. But where does this leave us with our creepy postcard?

I hope the blackheads the child mentions refer to “birds with more or less black about the head.” Otherwise, if the child means the other sense, that’s just disgusting.