By Roger Barbee
This morning I went online to read the Daily, something that I seldom do because I enjoy the old way of holding what I am reading in my hand. However, this week I wanted to read the news as several people I know do -- on the computer screen. I was not so interested in a particular article as I was in comments posted by anonymous readers because last week, after an exciting football game in Woodstock, it seems that some fans and readers took it on themselves to post scathing comments concerning the grammar of a high school athlete. (Now, I must post these disclaimers: I teach part time and coach wrestling at Central, and two weeks ago, in a column about old houses printed in this paper, I committed a heinous error in pronoun agreement).
Mark Twain, in commenting about man's moral life, wrote that "We all have the capacity for sin," and, as George Bowers wrote not long ago in these pages, sin is like the little varmints that invade our homes as cold weather approaches. Now, poor grammar is not as serious or costly as sin, but to re-state Twain and Bowers, we all can make errors in grammar, but poor grammar is more easily corrected than sin. Also, how we treat each other is also easily corrected. Yes, a high school student used poor grammar, but poor grammar is often used here in the valley and elsewhere. For one day, listen to the times you will hear someone say, "Where's it at?" or "Him and me went to the movies," or "I done good on the test," or "I seen the deer." Incorrect grammar is all around us. Even teachers (gasp) use incorrect grammar sometimes. Its predominance does not make it correct, but a fact of life that we all should, like sin, be watchful for in order to keep it from invading our lives.
As has been observed by this writer, the Daily is not the only newspaper that prints comments by anomymous (but registered) readers that may be hurtful, but that is the policy of many papers. This past Wednesday, the day after Election Day, I read several comments describing a re-elected member to the U.S. House as a "looney" in The Washington Post. That is, in my mind, an ugly description of a member of the U.S. House or any person, but the policy of the papers is clearly stated, so we live with it.
Yet, what gives someone the idea that he or she has the right to refer to an elected person by that word? As a matter of fact, what gives someone the idea that he or she is entitled to write comments about a high school student because the student had used poor grammar? Why would someone attack the user's parents? Are we so insecure in our own lives in the valley that we must attack each other? Of the many resouces in the valley, perhaps our richest is our youngsters who need our guidance, not our attacks.
When I make a grammatrical mistake (and I will), I hope someone calls my attention to it, but in a way that is helpful, not full of venom. A kind correction will help more than mean words. My good friend Joy, who lives in D.C., is a great proof reader. She has never been ugly when she corrects an error in something I have written, but she calls me on it.
If you feel that you must correct someone in any facet of his or her actions or words, make sure that your own house is in order, and that your words are gentle, but firm. A mean or spiteful comment will not correct, but only hurt. If causing pain is your objective, then go ahead, but expect nothing to change by that strategy. As my granny used to say, "Sugar draws more flies than vinegar." Remember: we all have the capacity for sin and poor grammar. Show some charity in thought and deed.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.