Peevers Aren’t Nice.

That’s the conclusion of a study by Julie Boland and Robin Queen reported here by MJ Franklin:

A study published in March suggests what we’ve all long suspected: People who are obsessed with grammar aren’t as nice as the rest of us.

For the study, scientists Julie Boland and Robin Queen from the University of Michigan asked 83 participants to read email responses to an ad for a roommate, and then evaluate the writer on both social and academic criteria.

There were three types of emails shown in the study: emails without errors, emails with grammatical errors only and emails with typos only. […]

According to Boland and Queen’s research, more agreeable participants (as determined by the results of the Big Five Personality index) tended to rate grammar errors less harshly than less agreeable participants, who showed more sensitivity to “grammos” — homophonous grammar errors like to/too, it’s/its.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, then speculates that the difference between the two groups may be “perhaps because less agreeable people are less tolerant of deviations from convention.”

Mind you, I wouldn’t put money on the accuracy of the results, but if it makes even a few people think twice about “correcting” other people’s spelling and grammar, I’m all for it.

Comments

  1. I suspect the same holds for those who are highly religious.

  2. One point that I think gets ignored in these discussions is that making a “grammo” doesn’t mean that someone is ignorant of the distinction at hand. When I get into a nice writing groove I enter a sort of autopilot state based on muscle memory, and when I look over the result I’ll often find, for example, that I’ve written a to instead of a too. I think a lexical typo like pohtography would be recognized by most people as an innocent slip of the finger – but when the error invokes a peevistic trope, then there’s this automatic presumption that it’s the result of fundamental ignorance.

    What’s caused me to find language peevery more and more distasteful in recent years is the sense of preening false intellectualism that it enables: with hardly any effort at all, you can use these five or ten Weird Tricks to bash Dummies and look like a Smart Person. In a discussion at LL a while back I characterized this kind of behavior as a “middlebrow handshake”: in hindsight I think that’s a little mean (the middle brow has its virtues just like the other two), but it does seem to be endemic among people for whom appearing to appreciate learning is a valuable thing. It reminds me of the “Science!” fad which, I think, may have mercifully peaked a few years ago.

    I’d find it interesting but not really surprising to learn that my fellow introverts tend toward the peeving side; I suppose it’s too simplistic to attribute the whole sordid business to social signaling when there are questions of underlying personality type to be considered. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a “fastidious” part of me that sympathizes with the peevers and looks poorly on a piece of sloppily written text, but I hope that I’ve managed to sublimate this tendency into something a bit more broad-minded. (The important thing, as xkcd observes, is to find a way to feel superior to everyone.)

  3. Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me [liberals/conservatives] are smarter than [conservatives/liberals], or that people who fall for pseudo-profound inspirational quotes are idiots.

  4. This sounds like “negative people are negative” more than anything about the peever type as such.

  5. Well, actually “nice” originally meant “foolish” and since the meaning and usage of words never changes it looks like we peevers come out on top here. Get upon our level, plebs.

  6. While browsing the dictionary on my Mac, I found a usage note that said the use of the word “nice” to mean “good” was trite and a result of “popular overuse”. I was very surprised that such an idea in prescriptivism even existed, since I have literally* never heard anyone ever use the word “nice” in any other way.

    *Or more accurately, “actually”. The real meaning of “literally” is “in the manner of a letter”, since it is derived from “littera” (meaning letter). I am baffled as to why no one is standing up against this flagrant violation and corruption of the English language. Words mean things, you know.

  7. Yes, for example, it is acceptable to say “I am literally dancing to the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ right now” but only during the chorus.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    “negative people are negative”

    “haters gonna hate
    plosives gonna stop”
    – somewhere on Facebook long ago

  9. Yvy tyvy: There are still a few people left who make nice distinctions.

  10. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a “fastidious” part of me that sympathizes with the peevers and looks poorly on a piece of sloppily written text, but I hope that I’ve managed to sublimate this tendency into something a bit more broad-minded.

    Same here, and I suspect the same is true for most descriptivists (since, after all, to care about language is on some level to dislike sloppily written text).

  11. Nor are people who immediately lash out with vitriol as soon as post comes up that they even remotely disagrees with coughcoughlanguageasshatcoughcough: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28288#comment-1520720

  12. My goodness, you certainly carry a grudge. I told you no offense was intended, and I meant it; I’m sorry I misunderstood your point, and I hope you’ll be able to let it go one of these years.

  13. I’m sorry if this is just because this is a text only medium but it didn’t sound like you really meant it.
    Let’s leave it now.

    It was partially because of some stuff elsewhere that really offended me. Sorry

  14. I’m sorry too; I know I can come off as a lot gruffer than I intend, and I am certainly capable of letting stuff elsewhere cause me to be grumpy online. Pax!

  15. Researcher: “Please judge these imaginary people solely on the basis of these texts.”
    Participant: “OK.”
    Researcher: “I have discovered that some people are willing to judge others on the basis of their writing!”

  16. Sample text: U GUT A ROOM ?

    Please answer yes or no: this person seems more sophisticated than most of my friends.

    Participant: Um, no, I guess not.

    Researcher: !!!

  17. There are still a few people left who make nice distinctions.

    That’s no nicety, that’s my…

    Wait, wut?

  18. I have a very intelligent friend who constantly makes these types of mistakes while writing, but you can’t tell at all when she speaks.

    I assume she has dyslexia with a layer of proofreading compensation. She has very highly phoneticized spelling when writing short messages like quick emails or post it notes.

    I think that the most commonly misspelled words are just beyond the level of self correction for her, even when trying to write a final letter for publication.

    For some people, their == they’re.

  19. Consider this: If a language changes too much and in certain ways, old writings and
    recordings etc.. will become difficult and/or impossible to understand.
    Therefore, it is advantageous to future generations who may want read
    old books for the current generation to try to stop certain changes that
    make older versions hard to understand (i.e spelling, pronunciation) but
    not ones that don’t (i.e split infinitive).

    Actually, prescriptivism can address only a small part of what makes old writings and recordings hard to understand.

    One reason we find Chaucer hard to understand is the spelling standardisation that has taken place in the meantime, which has created a gulf between ourselves and older practice. Anglo-Saxon is even harder to understand because of momentous changes that took place in British society — invasions from France and Scandinavia, changes in the standard dialect, changes in the basis of spelling, etc. It’s hard to see prescriptivism being of much use in combatting this.

    Even in modern times the problems of understanding earlier texts in English are partly due to a huge change in writing styles. I doubt that prescriptivism could combat this, either. For the world to go back to those writing styles I suspect we would need to bring back universal education in Latin.

    Looking outside English, Japanese texts from several hundred years ago are hard to understand (especially in their original form) because of changes in the physical style of writing (old letter forms are almost impossible to understand), social change (old institutions and practices have died out, leaving behind expressions that can only be understood with reference to them), script reform (designed to standardise the language and make it easier to be taught to the masses), etc. The changes are due not simply to an incremental evolution of language; they reflect seismic changes in society. Little of this could be combatted by prescriptivism.

  20. “One reason we find Chaucer hard to understand is the spelling standardisation that has taken place in the meantime, which has created a gulf between ourselves and older practice.”

    This is just how memes evolve to better suit our brains.

    Eventually, something will win. Either the memes of language will fit our brains perfectly, or else we will evolve to eliminate from the gene pool those people that can’t handle the most popular language memes.

    The first step for memes would be to prevent misspellers from getting apartments. Who nose whats next… maybe they will be two embarrased to order at French restaurants…

  21. As a general rule, I find that people whose grammar and spelling aren’t up to my level are illiterate idiots, while people whose grammar and spelling are better than mine are smug, self-satisfied peevers.

  22. Eventually, something will win. Either the memes of language will fit our brains perfectly, or else we will evolve to eliminate from the gene pool those people that can’t handle the most popular language memes.

    “Eliminate from the gene pool” means, in accordance with standard neo-Darwinian evolutionary science, that the individuals die before they can mate, reproduce and so pass their genes on.

    However, inability to speak or write correctly has not been shown to work against sexual attraction. In German this is known as the principle of “dumm fickt gut”.

    A more challenging question is: which genes are responsible for the idea of “memes”, and is there any hope that these genes will not be passed on ?

  23. We must distinguish between the original “meme” meme and the “Internet meme” meme. The first is a legitimate concept in the study of tradition, the second is a silly fad consisting of silly fads.

  24. “However, inability to speak or write correctly has not been shown to work against sexual attraction.”

    Exactly. But sexual attraction is just not enough since the invention of birth control. And this is why the memes have evolved to prevent these misspellers people from getting apartments. In this day and age, both men and women who live with their mom are a bit less likely to have many children. Eventually the genes responsible will be eliminated.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Eventually the genes responsible will be eliminated.

    Well, not as long as the population is growing, but it’ll stop doing that by the end of the century.

  26. “Well, not as long as the population is growing, but it’ll stop doing that by the end of the century.”

    I wouldn’t count on that. By then, biotechnology will be pumping out a lot of extra food and nutrients for the masses.

    So I guess you’re right; the gene purge will be through genetic editing, not natural selection.

    Memes will be much more effective when people are allowed to edit the genomes of their germ cell lines.

  27. People will be born knowing Simpsons quotes.

  28. “This is the snack holder where I can put my beverage, or, if you will, cupcake.”

  29. Jonathan D says:

    One point that I think gets ignored in these discussions is that making a “grammo” doesn’t mean that someone is ignorant of the distinction at hand.

    I suppose calling them “grammos” is intended to make them seem more like typos rather than actual errors of grammar, but wouldn’t it be better just to treat them as the spelling mistake/typo that they are without giving them a separate name that might suggest it’s more serious?

  30. People will be born knowing Simpsons quotes.

    Or marketing slogans. (In exchange for some nominal compensation, of course.)

  31. Sigh. Of course you’re right.

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