Because I’m a writer and have something of a reputation for being a stickler for grammar, people feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me, that I’m constantly judging their grammar and/or spelling. I get dragged into a lot of arguments about Oxford commas and multiple exclamation marks. People tell me, shame-faced, that they still have problems with their/they’re/there and not to be too hard on them. But I honestly believe there are very few instances when it’s appropriate to correct someone’s spelling or grammar:
1. It’s a child. Children are, by definition, born not knowing how to do much more than breathe and throw up. Through time, teaching and osmosis, they learn all sorts of other nifty tricks. The only way to help them develop some of those more complex skills, like grammar and spelling, is to correct their errors. Preferably this is your own child–or a friend’s or someone related to you–and not a random street urchin, but kindly correcting children is preserving the English language.
2. You’re being paid to do it. At Roundpeg, it’s part of my job to edit every blog post written by the team. I also do a great deal of editing for clients, either as a stand-alone project or as part of a larger engagement. In those cases, I am duty-bound to correct any errors I see. Usually I do this without commentary, simply changing the issue with changes tracked. Sometimes people will argue with me about whether this or that is correct (see: dangling prepositions). I give them my reasoning and usually they side with me. As long as it’s a gray area and not a black-and-white issue, I’ll do what they want.
3. It’s a friend and it’s done privately. Even the best editor and writer in the world is going to have occasional brain farts, typos or mistakes. If I see a friend’s blog post where they mixed up two homophones, I’ll shoot them a DM or a text and let them know. Usually, they’re grateful, and I appreciate when they do the same for me.
I can’t think of an instance when it’s okay to publicly call out someone on a typo or grammar mistake in a blog post. Are typos good things? Of course not. We should strive to get rid of them as much as humanly possible. If you spot a lot of them, it’s your right as a consumer (or business owner!) to not do business with that company. But by calling them out publicly, all you’re doing is feeding your own sense of superiority over someone else’s mistake.
What do you think? Is public grammar shaming okay?