No experience seems more common in social media practice than having one’s grammar corrected. The Grammar Bullies hide and then pounce on any typographical misstep or the your/you’re mix-up faster than you can click “submit.”
Reasons exist for such rude behavior. Slate attempted to explain the phenomenon, but if your gut instincts have told you some element of superiority is involved, your gut was right. Polite, secure people do not correct other people’s grammar. If they have the meaning of what one is saying in conversation, most listeners will overlook slight errors. Unfortunately, we don’t always talk with “most listeners.” Sometimes, in person, online, and against our better judgment, we talk with snooty, self-appointed, and insufferable grammar police.
What’s Really Happening
Behind all grammar corrections, back-handed compliments, and “it’s-only-a-joke” jibes lies hidden anger. When a Grammar Bully corrects your grammar (especially strangers online), you can rest assured that you are not the cause of his anger. Your word usage was simply the trigger of that anger. The Grammar Bully is in need of companionship, so publicly correcting you sends the homing beacon out to other Grammar Bullies. Grammar Bully is ringing in the friends with whom he can bond over mutual hate of the their/they’re misstep.
When we are angry or stressed, a bonding hormone called oxytocin is released, urging us to form social connections with other humans so as to better our chances for surviving the cause of the stress. A Grammar Bully is feeling insecure in some way, and the insecurity is driving her to gather up friends. Many observers may think the Grammar Bully is about belittling others, but really, the Grammar Bully is just looking to find other Grammar Bullies because she is feeling angry and/or stressed.
Anger can be subconscious and many times it is. We are discouraged from expressing anger when out and about in polite society, so we suppress it. Unfortunately, anger is one of those emotions that bubbles up to the surface. Grammar-correcting behavior is one of suppressed anger’s outlets.
So, now that we understand that insecurity and resentment are forms of anger that are being suppressed in the Grammar Bully, we can now learn how to behave in the event that we happen upon one of these lovely people.
Here are a few steps you can take:
- Pat them on the head and say “That’s nice, Dear.”
- Shout, “I WIN!” while jumping up and down and holding your fists in the air.
- Immediately sign up the offender to every spam email list known to humanity.
Just kidding. That’s just our own anger at someone attempting to belittle us in public. We’re Zen. We’re secure. We aren’t thugs who call up other thugs to beat down others. A little serenity goes a long way, and in the end will gather you more friends the more you share it.
Here’s what a secure and confident person can do when faced with Grammar Bullies:
1. Correct your text. Now that you know the Grammar Bully’s main issue is deep-seated anger and not about you, you can just chill and make the change.
2. Delete the tweet or update and tweet it (or update) anew. This only takes a few seconds and strips the wind from the Grammar Bully’s sails.
3. Apologize and leave it. Life’s too short.
4. Ignore the comment altogether. This may mean the homing beacon will signal even more Grammar Bullies to congregate, but at times it is best to not engage a Grammar Bully at all. Use your best judgment.
1. Smile kindly and with compassion (if you can manage it). The Grammar Bully just gave you the signal that she feels inferior to you and others in the room, or perhaps to others in general. This is kind of like a compliment. Kind of.
2. Apologize light-heartedly. e.g. “Silly me! I fall into that trap too often than I’d like to admit!” (This will make you seem quite gracious to the other listeners).
3. Call attention to the correction, but in the kindest way possible. e.g., “I see you are a real fan of the English language. Do you know my writer friend? He is the same way.”
4. Suggest you table the argument for another day. “I don’t have my Elements of Style with me right now, but I’m assuming since we all got the gist of what I was saying, we can look it up later. For now I’d like to finish my story.”
Remember: We are chill. We are calm. And no matter what, we are not threatened by Grammar Bully’s rude behavior. The key thing to remember is that even though you may have made a mistake, the Grammar Bully is making an exponentially bigger one by revealing their insecurities in public via correcting you. Handle it graciously and you’ll come out on top.