I recently had someone mail me something in the mail. A reader actually took the time to share their thoughts. I suppose I would have been more accepting of their comments if they’d taken the time to give me their address. Upon opening the suspicious envelope (I was tentative in doing so as it’s not often that I get unaddressed mail), I found that someone had sent me a copy of one of my recent articles, Don’t know ‘nothin ’bout birthers.’
Here’s the thing, I really don’t mind criticism, but it is unfair to chastise me on minor grammatical errors. Honestly, I think the point of them sending the thing was because people can get crazy about their politics. I don’t intend to respond to every comment via a full article, as I’ve received both positive and negative criticism before, but I did want to say, “Get a grip.”
Yes, the editors and I manage to miss some minor errors at times. Seriously, show me a newspaper that doesn’t have some errors in it! And while I always make use of my computer’s spell check (there’s no excuse not to) there are clearly times when it too makes mistakes. Heck, it didn’t like my own name until I told it to (it doesn’t like my capital T and my readers know how I feel about that). Since I’m taking the time to write about this (I’m not venting as I’m not angry – I’m actually both amused and disappointed) I may as well address the critiques.
First I’ll begin by saying that at least by mailing the critique to me (mind you that they had to take the time to look me up in the phonebook to do so — um, that’s kinda stalkerish) it’s nice to know that their 44 cents went to the financially impoverished US Postal Service. I’m actually looking forward to mailing my personalized Christmas cards for that same reason. I am also a fan of this thing called the Internet and the article does suggest to readers to contact me via email (I also have a blog). I do promptly respond to everyone who writes to me regardless of what they have to say.
The fact that I used ‘nothin instead of nothin’ (both words that spell check says are incorrect) was deliberate. Sometimes writers like to be a bit tongue in cheek or create new terms. I used ‘nothin to play on the fact that I was referencing a topic that I thought was really a bit silly. Plus, its displacement was to tie into arguably the supposed displacement of the President’s citizenship status. Therefore, the apostrophe was used as a silly addition to the title. I hope that they did find amusement in the Gone With the Wind play on words. It is after all my favorite book and movie.
As to the issues with subject-verb agreement that were pointed out, spell check didn’t catch pick up on it either. In the case of the sentence, “In recent weeks and months there have been unreasonable national attention given to the birthplace of our current president, Barack Obama,” it will take either and doesn’t flag it. When I wrote it I deemed the subject of the sentence “weeks and months” therefore making the use of “have” kind of obvious.
In the case of the sentence, “In order to hold the nation’s highest position there is three basic requirements that we’re all taught in school,” spell check deemed the phrasing “highest position are” a subject-verb agreement issue and suggested “position there is” (which I used), and “positions there are” (but in context that makes no sense). I’m sure we can all agree that there are times in grammar when the sentence doesn’t feel correct but actually is. Heck, even if it’s not I hope you at least got the point of the sentence.
Now to the whole point of why I’m sure they sent the criticism. It’s obvious that they don’t care for Obama. I want to make it clear; it’s not because of my race as to why I favor him. To be quite honest, it wasn’t until this last election that I voted Democrat. I tend to be very Republican in my voting but I vote on the issues not by the party. The whole Birthers things is not just a “black issue” (the point in me using John McCain as an example – oh, by the way, I’ve voted for him too), it’s that I think that we form opinions on so many things without knowing all the facts. I do that too, arguably in writing the article itself. “The real issue is the process by which we elect the President and not the prevailing absurdities of a select, loud, and uninformed few.”
As a writer, we often get caught up in our own heads and feel that maybe our audience will pick up on subtle nuances in our writing. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Look, I really don’t expect for everyone to agree with what I think or pick up on all the nuances – it is an opinion piece, afterall. What I do want is for my articles to at least be, as a reader recently told me, a little thought provoking (I won’t mention the other positive affirmations but will say that spell check didn’t want for me to insert the hyphen in thought provoking). It’s not, as the ‘critiquer’ (new word) said, “shame on me,” rather, shame on them for being so nit-picky (this coming from a person who has OCD issues and is also very nit-picky). Nothing is perfect in grammar considering how much the language and slang changes. The dictionary has a hard enough time keeping up. I don’t mind the criticism but when it’s something as contrite and contrived as that, I honestly roll my eyes and say again, “get a grip!” By the way, spell check doesn’t seem to like itself either as in one program “spell check” is correct and in another, so is “spellcheck.” Neither program is mutually exclusive.
To the person who sent me the letter, thanks for the criticism and thanks for giving me fodder for an article.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 12/28/11 issue of The Union-Recorder.