Someone Else’s Pet Peeve

A while back in Facebook I invited my readers to share a pet peeve about language usage. One reader (Hi Walter!) suggested that maybe know-it-all tech writers count as pet peeves. I know he was kidding because he’s a tech writer, but he has a point. Correcting someone’s language unasked tends to be irritating.

Almost everyone in the US speaks English, and most of us consider ourselves to be pretty good at it. We’re native speakers, right? Doesn’t being a native speaker make us automatically correct whenever we speak?

True, native speakers may coin new words whenever they like, but speaking tends to be more casual than writing, especially than technical (expository) writing. Sometimes we play fast and loose with the rules when we speak. That sort of informality isn’t a good idea in writing, though, especially when you explain something. Confucius said it well:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.

So what’s the problem? The problem is correcting someone’s language unasked. I think the habit of volunteering unasked-for advice in any field irritates people, not just unasked language advice.

I said this before, but I’ll say it again:

I resolve not to correct anyone’s language unless they ask.

You can kid me about it, though.