Are You a Grammar Troll?

Freemont trollEditor’s Corner

For years, it seems, it’s been impossible to find a language-related post or article online without a stickler making trouble in the comments section. Even on political, social, and retail sites, outraged commenters love to point out a missplaced apostrophe as a way to challenge the writer’s intelligence, education, or morality.

I’ve never believed that typos are that revealing. Anyone can be distracted or in a hurry. No one catches every single error. One study on human error rates concludes that “the best performance possible in well managed workplaces using normal quality management methods [has] failure rates of 5 to 10 in every hundred opportunities.”1 (Read that again: “the best performance possible”!)

And are we not human? Why shouldn’t we err?

At the University of Chicago Press a whole staff of editors makes a living finding typos and grammar goofs in book and journal article manuscripts, and no one thinks those writers are ignorant or corrupt.

It’s simply wrong to assume that anyone who types your when they mean you’re doesn’t know the difference. And in any case, is it right to point it out in a rude, public manner?

I’ll confess to taking a little evil pleasure when a grammar shamer commits a typo, falling victim to Muphrey’s Law [sic]: “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

What’s your take?

1. David J. Smith, Reliability, Maintainability and Risk, 7th ed. (Elsevier, 2005), app. 6. DOI: 10.1016/B978-075066694-7/50031-4.

Photo: Esther LeeFreemont Troll, Seattle

Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Carol SallerCarol Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor, 2nd editionCarol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at Writer, Editor, Helper.

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9 thoughts on “Are You a Grammar Troll?

  1. Interestingly, it’s my non-editor friends who are forever sending me links/screenshots/photos of typos they’ve found in the wild, fully expecting me to gleefully link arms with them and shout HURRAH at our superiority. In fact, when I notice a typo that matters, I just quietly email or message the author to say, “Psst! You’ve got a typo in line 3!” rather than post it on social media with a snarky comment.

  2. I completely agree. No one is perfect, and that includes editors.

    I must admit, though, that finding an error in a novel can pull me out of the fictional world I’ve been lost in, but I always find my way back. 🙂

  3. I fully agree, Carol. If it’s important that an error be pointed out, or if it’s clear this would be welcome, it can be done politely and discreetly. But it seems the motive behind public correction is more often to belittle the writer while revelling in self-regard. At the very least it’s unpleasant and presumptuous. Petty triumphalism over trivial lapses tends to reveal far more about the critic than about the writer. (I wrote about the language police in more detail here.)

  4. I had a whole group of “editors” flame me on a group about the European spelling of “organise” in UK English – they said it was interchangeable in UK English, which it is not. No apologies were forthcoming. I left the group. I may add they were all Americans, and I am English…

    • Flaming is unacceptable anywhere but especially in a professional group.
      I would guess that because both organize and organise are correct in British English (‘organize’ is the spelling preferred by the Oxford English dictionary) the other editors thought they were interchangeable, but of course you have to pick one way and stick to it for the affected ise/ize verbs.

  5. Pingback: Are you a grammar troll? | Editorial tips and t...

  6. I don’t usually correct people online unless they’ve asked a question or wondered if they did something incorrectly. I realize that there are many cases where it is more an issue of style than grammar, and people have options. I also realize that many people don’t care about correct grammar, and I am being of no benefit to anyone by nagging them about it.

    Occasionally, however, I will correct someone in person when they have incorrectly “corrected” someone else. For example:

    Person A: That is from Mary and me.
    Person B: Mary and I.
    LC: Actually, Person A was correct. The pronoun needs to be me, because it is an object of the preposition from.

    That will usually lead to more questions which I am happy to answer. Mostly, I like to teach people who have indicated a desire to learn.

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