I remember last year I signed up for this bike tour in New York. It was an all day event, pedaling around the five boroughs. There’d be long stretches of time where I’d find myself biking next to the same person. I’m thinking of one guy in particular. It wasn’t anything on purpose, but we just happened to be going at about the same speed for at least half an hour or so. There wasn’t any conversation, but at one point, he tried to make some small talk. He asked me if this was my first time doing the bike tour, I said yes. He said, “So how are you doing?” and I said, “I’m good. How are you doing?”
And he said, “Well!”
And I just basically stopped pedaling. I wanted to fall back, really far behind. Because there was no way I could spend even another minute next to this guy. “Well!” it just kept echoing in my head. Did some random dude on a bike just correct my grammar?
This wasn’t even on the Internet, OK, this was real life. This was a real life human being correcting the grammar of another real life human being. Do people like that get off somehow on showing up random strangers who might not constantly talk as if they’re preparing a formal document? I don’t understand the motivation. Because, to me anyway, the only reason to verbally one-up someone else is to make yourself feel a little better at their expense.
I don’t want to make a blanket statement here. Do I think that every person guilty of this or similar offenses is actively trying to condescend? I don’t know, maybe not. Maybe this bike guy didn’t mean anything by it. Maybe it’s just become so automatic to point out the flaws in the speech and text of others. It could be that at this point, it’s just a reflex. But it all just reeks of superiority. “Well!” Again, to me anyway, it doesn’t even sound natural.
It’s the Internet’s fault, after all. How better to practice random grammatical attacks than via the anonymity of your keyboard? As technology has made it easier for pretty much anybody to publish his or her thoughts, it’s gotten even more effortless for everyone else in the world to stand around and point fingers and complain that somebody you’ve probably never met doesn’t know the difference between your and you’re.
Does it even matter? I know the difference between your and you’re, and I make that mistake all the time. I make tons of ridiculous mistakes all the time. Just the other day, I was proofreading something that I was about to post online, and I’d realized that I’d written out eye instead of I. That’s a pretty crazy mistake. But it happened. Mistakes happen. That’s what we have spellcheck for.
If you spot someone using your when they should have written you’re, or they’re and there and their, and you’re sitting there thinking, ha, that idiot doesn’t know how to write, let me make a snarky comment at the expense of their mistake. Do you feel good about yourself afterward? Does it make you feel better knowing that somewhere out there on the Internet, there’s a person who doesn’t know everything that you know?
Best case scenario, you say something mean and the person catches their mistake. Worst case, you make someone else feel bad and discourage them from writing in the future. Is that what you want? I’m not suggesting we embrace mediocrity, but don’t you feel like people need to be able to practice something in order to get better at it?
And seriously, we’re not defenders of the English language here. If you have something to say, say it however you want. Lead by example, not by calling out the grammatical missteps of others. If someone says they’re doing good, just smile and say you’re doing great. Stop being such a jerk.