I imagine there are two types of people prepared to read this piece: people who are sick of self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis, and Grammar Nazis about to be called out on their antics. Either way, hello and welcome.
I’ve been editing full-time and on the side for four years now. As I’ve reflected on how much I’ve grown as a writer and editor, I’ve also grown tired of people who think they can publicly correct people on grammar without the same training and background as me and my fellow colleagues.
So I’m putting on my sassy pants and I’m about to drop some major truths that your editing and writing friends wish you learned yesterday. Buckle up, word nerds.
1. Being an Editor Is More than Understanding Grammar Rules
Let’s get this out of the way: being an editor is more than being a human spellchecker. It’s more than being a rule keeper. Okay, I don’t have the Chicago Manual of Style memorized. The main goal of editing is to make the writer look good—plain and simple. Whether you’re working for an author, a company, or whatever, your editor ensures that everyone sounds smart and intelligible.
So why are there so many grammar trolls that opt to play editor just to mock writers? If no one asked you for your opinion or if you’re not being paid for your services, sit down.
When I work with fellow authors, I’m not just an editor—I’m also a cheerleader and a therapist. Writing is difficult. Also, not every person likes to write but many do it anyway for their jobs or classes. So when you get the opportunity to work closely with these writers, they need encouragement and constructive criticism to see the project through. I’m putting emphasis on “constructive.” I think if you’re using grammar rules to be petty or put people down, you’re not an actual editor. Let us do our jobs, okay?
2. We Only Edit When We’re Paid for It
No, I’m not editing your words as they come out of your mouth or whenever I get a work email. I’m a professional, so I edit when there’s a paycheck tied to it. Clear and simple. I seriously did not go to college so I could be a party pooper.
My top pet peeve is when someone is suddenly afraid to talk around me when they hear I’m an editor. Some have literally said things like “I’ll try to clean up my grammar around you” or “I better use fancier words.” Excuse me, I want to be a good friend! Thus, I’m going to use my brain to listen to what you’re trying to say rather than look for mistakes.
Also, fluent speakers understand more about the English language than they realize. Meaning, I will likely always understand what you’re trying to say because we’re two fluent speakers conversing with one another. And I don’t get a high from pointing out errors for free, okay. I’ve already done an unpaid internship, so I charge for my editing services now.
I will tell you this right now: whenever someone chooses to call out grammatical errors online, it’s mostly done by someone who didn’t major in English. They just “have a love for the English language” or something. You also can’t major in editing; you can get a minor or choose an emphasis, but you can’t get a full-on degree in editing. This means that very few people can call themselves editors on a professional front. You can’t just say you’re good at spelling words and call yourself an editor. I paid money to learn my craft and I don’t pretend like I know someone else’s craft.
So here’s the main message for all of you who are insecure about your grammar: a real editor would not drag you online unless you’re a big jerk. If you’re trying to live your life and you make a simple mistake, professional editors will not take the bait; only a troll will.
3. Grammar Errors Are Not a Good Debate Tool
How many times have you made the mistake to read the comment section on social media? And how many times are people picking apart someone’s grammar and using that against the original writer? Errrrr, wrong.
Equating someone’s grasp of grammar with their grasp on the argument is a logical fallacy and frankly, a lazy debate tactic. Imagine if this were someone speaking English as their third language and they conjugate a verb wrong—does that mean they’re stupid? Absolutely not.
Again, real editors have learned proper debate tactics (I took a whole class on this for my minor) and know the better way to debate with people online. And I don’t speak for all editors; we like to play casually and be jerks online, too. But again, the majority of people who mock someone’s argument because they spelled a word wrong are likely not real editors. Just real jerks. Let’s try to get to the meat of the debate and start there, not with the fluffy stuff.
4. You Can Call Out Errors & Still Be Nice
There are still plenty of opportunities to call out grammar—if you care about the writer’s image and well-being. Take this for example: your friend wants to throw a party on Saturday, May 18th 2018. You’ll notice that May 18th of this year is actually a Friday. If you want to go to that party, you’ll likely want to know what date they meant to share. That’s information that does need further clarification, and thus you really should ask them what’s what.
Here’s the thing: personal messaging is still a thing. Write them a personal message, explain the situation, and let them discreetly make the change. Make them look smart. That’s what editors do for a living.
This seriously reminds me of a horrible Facebook status I posted four years ago after I graduated from college. As an English major with a minor in editing. I wrote something like “I graduated today! I’m officially a BYU alumni!” Someone noticed my typo and wrote in the comment section, “You are not an alumni. You’re an alumnus. Congratulations on graduating.”
I was so angry and embarrassed—considering I put on blast that I majored in English and editing. This commenter looked beyond the message I was trying to deliver and embarrassed me over a single/plural noun typo. It puts a whole new spin on one of my favorite quotes, “kindness unwanted is unkindness.”
I learned that day that I wouldn’t do that to someone else, even if it’s a little thing. In the future, I would handle precious cargo: a resume, a novel manuscript, or a thesis. People care about what they write, so I vowed that I would treat other people’s writing with due respect.
5. Don’t Hate on Slang
Something that many non-editors know is the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Every editor basically picks a side: will they follow the letter of the law or the spirit of the law. If you’re a prescriptivist (like most online grammar trolls), you primarily focus on what is correct or incorrect grammar. If you’re a descriptivist (like me), you understand that English is a fluid, living language, and thus it changes over time.
Grammar rules have actually loosened up a bit within this past decade to match with how we use English today. For example, a descriptivist would not correct someone for saying “Can I use the bathroom?” instead of using “may” because they know good and well what the speaker is saying. Descriptivists tend to study the culture behind slang, trends, and new sentence structure choices, and understand there is a time and place to say whether that is appropriate. With social media blowing up for self-marketing, audiences gravitate towards brands that are casual, real, and transparent—leaving behind stuffy, formal writing styles.
But of course, self-acclaiming editors wouldn’t get all that. They’re stuck on the do’s and don’ts they learned back in elementary school or high school. Since they already think it’s okay to be rude and pretentious online, they wouldn’t know that real writers and editors try to embrace the current norms for what they are: a celebration of language.
So don’t @ me with “why are teens ruining the English language” because it’s not like your generation has some weird grammar and vocab choices. *sips tea*
6. We Aren’t Always Grammatically Perfect
Friends, I can’t tell you how often correct me on the internet. Why? Because I don’t always closely proofread my tweets, FB posts, or Instagram captions. I give a precursory glance and then I post what I have. Not everything is meant to be a measure of my skills and my grasp of the English language.
As I have already mentioned, public speech deserves to be free and unsensored; you really only need to proofread what is connected to your goods and services or important pieces of information. If I’m sharing a gif, I’m gonna use the slang of the day. Otherwise, I don’t sound like myself.
One of the biggest pet peeves as a writer and an editor is that there are enough people that assume that you never make grammatical mistakes. People, I’m not working 100% of my day, and neither is anyone else. I’m allowed to be sloppy and casual, okay! It’s really ironic with non-writers or non-editors are the ones trying to be pretentious when they call people like me out. Who’s the grammar police now? Who gave you that badge, sir/madam?
Understand that when I’m not in work mode, I am in play mode—just like everyone else. Heed my warning and just don’t poke a writer or editor, period. It gives us permission to thoroughly drag you back.
So there you have it. Here’s the real talk you needed today. If you agree with me, share this with the haters. It’d be my dream come true if you drop a link to this post as a response to a troll. Let my words save you the time, please. If you have more to add or if you disagree, let’s chat in the comments or online.
Editors and writers: I salute you. Don’t let the Muggles get you down.