Is it fair to single out others’ small mistakes, and enlarge them to the extent that we miss the point of what they were trying to say?
Yes. We do it all the time, and we should do it even more. Missing The Point is one of the major industries in Utah, along with Jumping To Conclusions and Being Better Than Others.
But is it fair when OTHER people do this to US? Obviously not. I’m surprised you even had to ask. Dishing It Out But Refusing To Take It is another thing we all do pretty well around here.
What brings me to this topic is a letter the Daily Herald printed recently in which a Salem resident takes me to task for using poor grammar. Specifically, she quotes me as saying that when I was a kid, “an older, bratty girl named Colleen was harassing me and my friends, so my mom turned the hose on her to chase her out of the yard.”
Surely even the stupidest Daily Herald readers are already howling at the embarrassing mistake I made there, perhaps even calling to cancel their subscriptions and sign up for the Deseret “News” instead. My mistake? I neglected to mention another time, when some older boys were throwing rocks at me, and my mom aimed an unloaded BB-gun at them to scare them off.
No, actually, according to the letter-writer, the mistake I made was in saying “me and my friends” instead of “my friends and me.” In a quaint anecdote, the letter-writer says, “Even before I started school and studied grammar, my grandmother would correct my speech.” (Note: What a fun grandma!) “‘It is polite to put others first,'” she cites her life-of-the-party Nana as saying.
Well, indeed. It IS polite to put others first. It is not, however, a grammatical mandate. As long as you have the pronouns right — some would be tempted to say “myself and my friends” or “my friends and I,” both of which would be so wrong as to, in an ideal world, have your U.S. citizenship revoked — it technically doesn’t matter what order you put them in.
The letter-writer said this was an example of my self-importance. I put “me” before “my friends”; thus, clearly, I consider myself to be more important than my friends.
(It is quite a coincidence that the letter-writer happened to catch the one time I’ve ever been impolite in my writing.)
The whole Missing The Point thing comes in when we realize that this particular column was a sweet, warm-hearted Mother’s Day tribute to my own personal mother. Mom says she was deeply touched by it, and she makes everyone read it. Getting persnickety (and the letter WAS persnickety) over a tiny issue of politeness seems to be Missing The Point entirely.
Newspapers make mistakes all the time, ranging from minor things tangentially related to grammar, all the way up to huge goofs, like the famous Chicago Tribune blunder in which the paper ran the erroneous headline, “Dewey Defeats Darth Vader.”
And back to the fairness thing. Someone writes a letter nit-picking my column, and I write a column nit-picking her letter. Both of us are taking one small thing and making a big deal of it. Who between us can judge who’s the better writer?
I can, of course, because I have a weekly column and she doesn’t, so nyah nyah.
No! I continue to kid! Neither of us is necessarily a better writer than the other, though we’re both better than the person who posted the following online message in response to my review of the film “Love and Basketball”:
“I think the movie touch people to heart with there own lives and overall it was a very enjoyable movie.”
I think the letter-writer and I can agree that this person should not be allowed near a computer ever again. And I bet her grandma would even support me and her in that.
There are a few subtle grammar jokes in this column that I'm not going to tell you about. Since the column's not very funny, looking for the hidden jokes will give you something to do instead of laugh at it. You can read the letter in its entirety at the column it refers to.