The verbal fisticuffs started with a simple comment. The writer expressed her chagrin at an author’s persistent use of the non-word “irregardless,” and the battle was on: "irregardless" vs "regardless, "altogether" vs "all together." Several rounds involved dialect as opposed to "proper" English. There was even some sparring over the use of slang as opposed to "ordinary" language. Accusations flew, suggesting those who clung more strictly to a Strunk and White version of grammar were elitist.
This battle was waged on a recent LinkedIn discussion. Shortly after it began, I offered a comment or two then sat back and followed as new remarks were added day after day after day. At last count, there were seventy-six comments added to the thread, enough to weave a virtual rope. The influx has finally tapered off, but the debate still continues and, no doubt, always will.
What constitutes proper grammar is a topic that may rank right up there with religion and politics. The word alone elicits moans and groans. It causes eyes to roll and eyebrows to arch. It almost invariably causes conflict.
Like everyone else, I've got personal pet peeves when it comes to grammar. Here’s an example of something that makes me cringe: He poured himself a cup of coffee. Arrrrgh! That and countless other variations of it make their way into writing every day. In actuality, he didn't pour himself; he poured a cup of coffee for himself. Do I understand the meaning of the first version? Sure I do, but the writer might just as well write: Throw me down the stairs my shoes. Frankly, I don't want to read that either.
I think we, as writers, should be aware of and use “proper” grammar when it’s appropriate. On the other hand, I think fiction writing has its own set of ground rules. Weird analogy or not, like a centerline down a highway, I see quotation marks as the indicators of what we are and aren’t allowed to do in that regard. Unless it's first-person narration, anything outside quotation marks needs to adhere to proper usage. As for anything inside quotation marks, whether it's slang, dialect, or dropping 'g's, whatever your characters choose to say, however they choose to say it, anything goes, because it’s the writer’s job to make dialogue sound natural no matter how grammatically incorrect it may be. It just has to be kept in line with the character's background, education and personality.
Let me share a laugh aimed at grammarians everywhere. This is from a birthday card I received from a good friend and member of my critique group. Picture two women chatting at a table.
First woman: "Where's your birthday party at?"
Second woman: "Don't end a sentence with a preposition."
First woman: "Okay. Where's your birthday party at, bitch?"
What are YOUR pet grammar peeves? Post them here. Let’s hear 'em!