White people love rules. It explains why so they get upset when people cut in line, why they tip so religiously and why they become lawyers. But without a doubt, the rule system that white people love the most is grammar. It is in their blood not only to use perfect grammar but also to spend significant portions of time pointing out the errors of others.
When asking someone about their biggest annoyances in life, you might expect responses like “hunger,” “being poor,” or “getting shot.” If you ask a white person, the most common response will likely be “people who use ‘their’ when they mean ‘there.’ Maybe comma splices, I’m not sure but it’s definitely one of the two.”
If you wish to gain the respect of a white person, it’s probably a good idea that you find an obscure and debated grammar rule such as the “Oxford Comma” and take a firm stance on what you believe is correct. This is seen as more productive and forward thinking than simply stating your anger at the improper use of “it’s.
Another important thing to know is that when white people read magazines and books they are always looking for grammar and spelling mistakes. In fact, one of the greatest joys a white person can experience is to catch a grammar mistake in a major publication. Finding one allows a white person to believe that they are better than the writer and the publication since they would have caught the mistake. The more respected the publication, the greater the thrill. If a white person were to catch a mistake in The New Yorker, it would be a sufficient reason for a large party.
Though they reserve the harshest judgment for professional, do not assume that white people will cast a blind eye to your grammar mistakes in email and official documents. They will judge you and make a general assessment about your intelligence after the first infraction. Fortunately, this situation can be improved if you ask a white person to proof read your work before you send it out. “Hey Jill, I’m sorry to do this, but I have a business degree and I’m a terrible writer. Can you look this over for me?” This deft maneuver will allow the white person to feel as though their liberal arts degree has a purpose and allow you to do something more interesting.
Don’t worry, it is impossible for a white person to turn down the opportunity to proofread.
The adjectives alternate and alternative, say many commentators, are often confused; they advise keeping them separate. The senses recommended are “occuring or succeeding by turns” for alternate, and “offering or expressing a choice” for alternative.
This sentence has seven different meanings, depending on the stressed word:
I didn’t say she stole my money — someone else said it.
I didn’t say she stole my money — I didn’t say it.
I didn’t say she stole my money — I only implied it.
I didn’t say she stole my money — I said someone did, not necessarily her.
I didn’t say she stole my money — I considered it borrowed, even though she didn’t ask.
I didn’t say she stole my money — only that she stole money.
I didn’t say she stole my money — she stole stuff which cost me money to replace.
I know this isn’t strictly grammar-related. But tonight, for some reason, I’d been thinking of the beautiful subtleties and nuances of language — and how such seemingly slight things as stressing a different word (or even syllable) can completely change the meaning of what you’re saying.
By request of ncroal, here’s a clarification on two oft-confused words from a compendium that I’ll be citing a lot:
“Cache” comes from the French verb cacher, meaning “to hide,” and in English is pronounced exactly like the word “cash.” But reporters speaking of a cache (hidden hoard) of weapons or drugs often mispronounce it to sound like cachet—“ca-SHAY”—a word with a very different meaning: originally a seal affixed to a document, now a quality attributed to anything with authority or prestige. Rolex watches have cachet.