September 12, 2004

The psychodynamics of grammatical correction

Being an optimistic sort of person, I've been thinking optimistic thoughts about new search and communications technologies creating a new era for discussions of grammar and usage. After all, any sensible person with internet access can now learn what the facts of usage are like. And anyone who pontificates ignorantly on the subject in public is likely to be ridiculed, in public and at length, by some of the people whose weblogs are listed on the Language Log front page blogroll. So logically, there ought to be a shakeout in the language maven business, weeding out those too careless or too bigoted or too dense to produce commentaries consistent with the basic facts.

But then, being a realistic sort of person, I had a more pessimistic thought. Some people pay others to make up rules and impose punishments for imaginary infractions, apparently because they derive pleasure from humiliation. The rules involved need not be rationally justified -- perhaps it's even more enjoyable if they aren't. Nor do careful description and accurate separation of fact from fancy seem to be in the job description of those who provide such services.

If this is really what's going on, then the grammar slammers of the world will continue to find customers eager to experience the sensations promised by the offer to "vanquish your language anguish", whether or not the slammers bother to get their facts straight. So I looked around a bit on the internet to see if I could find any evidence of grammar correction as a category of SM role playing, on a par with Klismaphilia, Retifism and the rest. Aside from things like jokey references to Lynne Truss as "the dominatrix of grammar", the main thing I found was an extensive network of attempts at porn-parlor Google bombing, full of text like this:

You owe it to your self to give Positioning Dominance Through Grammar and Swapping Cash your full un divided attention, chances such as Filipina Dominatrix Portland and Bisex Couple are very important. Life is too short not to give Justa Swinging Peppy or Aussie Christian Singles the chance that they deserve, learn how breakthrough ideas such as Illinois Free Adult Classifieds and certainly Cartilage Piercings have made a real difference.

(For more about pages of this kind, see this post from last winter).

My search also turned up this abstract from the September 2004 issue of Computers and Composition Online:

Jacqueline Rhodes, California State University , San Bernadino, Homo origo: The queertext manifesto.

Abstract: In a 56-point performance of what she calls “queertext,” Rhodes explicates the tensions between “The Word” and “queertext.” The Word, she writes, enacts its dominance through grammar and “extends its discipline” through a host of ills including “English-onlyism,” racism, heterosexism, and capitalism; queertext, on the other hand, resists textual dominance through its emphasis on “the material, erotic realities of our bodies.” Rhodes finds a unique space for queertexts online, claiming that the “hyperlink is an erotic textual moment, when idea and action collide.”

I believe that this is serious, though it's sometimes hard to tell.

My conclusion, in any case, is that grammar correction is not at all popular as a form of SM role play. So maybe there's hope for rational and honest grammatical discourse after all.

And I thought of closing with another "erotic textual moment", but decided to stick with the rigorous discipline of The Word.


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 12, 2004 03:40 PM