Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Grammar gone bad

There’s a t-shirt I’ve seen for sale on the Internet that reads, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” Whenever I share this saying with a fellow sufferer of synesthesia — those of us whose ears hurt when someone trips on the language — they smile and nod. I can’t speak for them, but I really do, honestly, try to keep my mouth shut. I love the English language and I know that it’s fluid, and I have a deep appreciation for regionalisms and the musicality of slang and patois, whether it’s Spanglish or gullah or good ol’ boy tongue or whatever we’d call the voice of Chaucer and Twain.

But just now I couldn’t help myself.

I’m at Chicago Midway airport waiting for my flight. Seated next to me was a dad and his wife and their three small children. One of the kids said she’d “sneaked” over to do something, and the dad immediately said, “Snuck.”

And before I could catch myself, and because we’d already had a conversation where he’d apologized for his rambunctious toddlers and I’d said, “It’s okay — I traveled with three of them myself,” I volunteered, “Actually, it’s ‘sneaked.’ ”

Some would say that both “sneaked” and “snuck” are proper (and that’s where Merriam-Webster lands, and I live by the AP StyleBook, which says “sneaked” is preferred), but “sneaked” has about 300 years of history on the latter — and it sure sounded to my ear like someone miscorrecting a child who was actually right.

The dad said, “Is it? Oh, okay,” in a nice way — he didn’t seem to mind at all — but what left me feeling crummy was the one kid who said, “Wow, did we video that?” because now he wanted a record of his dad getting corrected, which the other two children joined in on.

Next time I’ll just remember to stick with silently correcting people.

Unless it’s my own kids.

Leave a Reply