“I can’t believe he said amount of people, the idiot.”
I’ve spent half a lifetime wincing at incorrectly placed commas, mixed up words and split infinitives. “Your going home” hurts my teeth and “the city still has it’s charm” makes me crawl under a blanket. Pointing out grammatical mistakes is a thankless job, and I have no problem being that person. The snob in my head thrives, with a little ammo from road signs to snarl at.
It’s funny. Once upon a time, my relationship with words was very different. As a younger reader, words were almost sacred to me. They were new, waiting to be explored. They looked their part. “Sarcastic” seemed to appear sassy. When I read “she stared at him furiously,” the words glared, raged, and ranted all over the page.
I spent a good part of my childhood putting new words in sentences. Whether it made sense or not, I had to say “I’m withering away to the size of a prune,” just because I’d heard someone use “wither” and read “prune” while leafing through a dictionary.
Yes, I leafed through dictionaries. Then the internet arrived and took the weight of a big book off my shoulders. It also took away the joy of stumbling upon a new word and suddenly declaring “that is innocuous!” just so the world knew what I’d learnt.
When I was new to the concept of language, words delighted me. I tucked them away carefully, waiting for an opportunity to use them in public. I would repeat them slowly, familiarizing myself with them, hesitantly placing them in a sentence I would softly mumble. Sometimes I would chicken out and rephrase my sentence, other times I would boldly butcher the pronunciation.
Language thrilled me as easily as a musical could, its ability always humbling me. How could it make me well up when my day was just fine? How could it make me laugh when I was alone in public? How could it make me fall in love with a character that never existed?
Somewhere in this love affair, snobbery crept in. Like a controlling spouse, it sucked out every last bit of romance, leaving me in a rut where language played no part. Words translated the mess in my head to something more understandable, and their role ended there. They were no longer experimented with, enjoyed, or explored – they were to be used, and used right at that.
I became the equivalent of the class snitch, turning up my nose at anyone who dared use the wrong pronoun and reporting the crime to a nonexistent grammar lord who’d give me a nonexistent point. And while I grudgingly respect that snitch, it’s time to tune him out once in a while. It’s time to rekindle the joy of repeating a new word over and over again, of storing it for future reference, of dreaming up situations where it might come in handy.
Instead of “cut this,” “that’s not needed,” and “wow did you ever read as a child?” it’s nice to listen carefully for the faint voice of the seven year old who once said “Indignant. In-dig-nant. Can I use this in my next essay somehow?”
Inspired by Stephen Fry.
Also published in Thought Catalog.