Credit: Bianca Cavallo
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// At SUNY Purchase

Why Grammar Snobbery Is Synonymous With Ableism

Comma placement is in no way a reflection of intellectual ability.

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OK, listen – I get it. After speaking to me a bit, you'll tell me I talk like I'm an English major. You'll correct me when I misspeak, and –– in all good fun –– crack an underhanded joke about how clearly my major has taught me very little in terms of correctly utilizing the English language. You'll attempt to use this as an excuse to publicly undermine my intelligence when I use shorthand in my tweets because I'm an English major, right? I should use "proper" English on every social networking forum.

This was essentially how I was treated in high school when a boy in my senior class found out I was majoring in English immediately prior to a completely ridiculous Twitter fight I had with him about gendered slurs.

Everyone knows that Twitter leaves minimal space for roasting on a public forum; it is very difficult to get your point across in a singular tweet if you're going by Purdue OWL's rules outside of a formal essay. So, I turned to good ole shorthand! Why wouldn't I? Whether I said "you" as opposed to "u," my responses would be synonymous; "bc" over "because" should not be a reflection of my intellectual ability, nor should anyone perceive them as such. It's the internet. This take on shorthand is a rational one. However, while it did not bother me or any of the people favoriting my tweets, it certainly bothered the boy who found himself on the losing end of the argument.

I've noticed, through my elementary and middle school experiences with bullying, that people tend to project their perceived failure onto their opponent, picking and choosing completely irrelevant details as a means of somehow hindering the other's spirit and amplifying their own. This boy was no different; he asked me if I was even speaking English, proceeded to say what I was saying held no weight because I wasn't "speaking a language," and then told me that he couldn't be bothered to speak to me if I wasn't going to use proper grammar. By saying these things and making an honest attempt to hurt my feelings, he felt as though he would appear victorious. Of course, his triumph would be apparent to the folks in the back if they could recognize that he was using commas and I was not.

Unfortunately, a triumph was not in his cards –– but the guarantee of looking like an ableist jerk on a large social media platform? That was all too present.

Listen. I get it, I get it. There is a definitive knee-jerk reaction to improper mechanics; I'm an English major. I work as an editor for a newspaper. It's my job to pick and choose what's right and what's wrong in a piece and, respectively, to correct them. However, there is a distinct difference between understanding grammar and demanding it, and if you're someone who demands the "proper" employment of the English language on every platform –– stop. Stop. And consider these things before you move onward as an ableist:

Educational Privilege:

Not everyone has had the luxury to attend the same educational institutions that you may have. I am fortunate enough to have been put through a decent public school system and have the present resources to apply to (and attend) college. It is because of this that I am able to recognize the importance of grammar in formal settings –– and it is because of this that I am able to recognize that not everyone has had the same privilege as me.

Race Privilege:

It is pretty common for people to assume that someone of a certain race sounds a certain way. If you are white, you "sound" white. If you are black, you "sound" black. You "sound" the way that your race is perceived in our great heteropatriarchal country. As a society, we denounce forms of language that don't fit our "white" standards. Because, for whatever reason, white people are allegedly more intellectually capable of speaking correctly? Right.

Native Language Privilege:

English is hard to learn. English is hard to learn. I don't want to hear that just because we're in America, that we need to speak English. You certainly do not learn Spanish when you visit San Juan.

So, what here is the ultimate takeaway? Maybe that you can't expect someone to have the same privilege as you. Maybe people don't always have the same resources you were raised with. Maybe another language is spoken at home. Maybe they aren't neurotypical.

Or maybe it's just important that I can roast you in 140 characters or less without a comma in sight.

Opening my eyes in photos would imply I was comfortable with meeting your gaze.

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