Thanks to Mighty Quinn (no relation to MRP) who tipped me off to this recent question in Miss Conduct’s etiquette column.
Handcuffing the Grammar Police
Should you correct others’ speech?
August 5, 2007
Recently I was talking with a friend about another friend’s sickness and said I felt “badly” for my sick friend’s family. The friend I was conversing with interrupted me and said I should have said I felt “bad” for the family. I don’t dispute my grammar slip, but was it rude of my friend to interject an admonishment about my grammar in the middle of such a serious conversation? I’ve often wondered what the etiquette is for correcting others’ grammar. I feel that it is rude to do this, but I know many people who seem to believe it is not only appropriate, but their duty.
E.R. in Stoneham
And her response:
And they’re wrong. The etiquette for correcting another person’s grammar is that you don’t, not unless you have blanket permission and a compelling reason to do so. Even then, never interrupt a train of thought or a serious conversation. The English language has been around for 600 years in its present form, give or take a century, depending on which linguistic historian you ask, and is the dominant language worldwide for business, science, and politics. It is, in short, sturdier than the average friendship and in need of less coddling.
Some people correct others’ grammar more out of unthinking habit than out of a deep protective instinct toward the mother tongue. It’s a verbal tic with them, as swearing or automatically making wisecracks is for other people. As with these other peccadilloes, ignore it if it doesn’t bother you, and if it does, gently register an objection.
MRP would tend to agree with Miss Conduct. There’s a much better way to deal with a situation like this: Write about it on your grammar blog.