Pedantry and good manners
They say that good manners cost you nothing but ignorance will cost you everything.
I found myself thinking of this old adage this week as I unfriended on Facebook two people I’ve known for 35 years. Of course I’ve not actually seen either of them in 30 years or so, but each found me on Facebook a couple of years ago, and we reconnected.
What made me take the final step of unfriending? Each of these fellows left a comment correcting my English within seconds of my posting a Facebook update. They were both correct, mind you; but I wasn’t in the mood for a public rebuke first thing in the morning.
And both these individuals are serial offenders when it comes to this particular breach of good manners, because yes, it’s very bad manners to correct someone’s English in public. Most children learn this at their mothers’ knee.
But for some reason, in this Internet age, some people seem to dispense with the good manners they are taught as children. Emboldened by the remoteness of online communications, certain individuals are tempted to comment in ways they never would if the recipient was sitting beside them in the same room.
Recently I was shocked by an extremely rude comment left on an article posted by a respected and very successful blogger. In response to the blogger’s advice to preview content before posting, this commenter wrote:
“…How ironic, you should practice what you preach. I know, the standard of journalistic excellence has certainly deteriorated over the last couple decades, but it’s writers such as yourself who have lowered the bar for everyone else.”
One typo and the blogger gets blamed for deteriorating standards across a whole profession! Looking at this comment, and keeping in mind that the writer in question isn’t a trained journalist and English isn’t his mother tongue, you can’t help but think, “That’s harsh!”
However, the world is full of pedants; and the Internet gives them the platform to display their arrogance.
I’m not saying that correct spelling, grammar and syntax are not important; just ask any of my colleagues about what nag I can be when it comes to clean, correct copy. What I am saying is that having a superior knowledge of such things does not give anyone the right to be rude. If the goal is to correct the writer to save the embarrassment of having published flawed text, there are ways to do so politely in private.
Each and every Monday morning I receive an email from a colleague who politely informs me of any typos or errors in my weekly blog post. I usually think, “Dang! She got me again!”
But, I do appreciate that she’s got my back and is helping me out. I know this because she advises me privately.
Commenting on such things publicly does not make the writer look silly and the commenter clever; it has quite the opposite effect.
My advice to lurking pedants and trolls is to treat people the way you yourself would like to be treated, i.e. with respect and politeness.