I was once a grammar Nazi, and a rude one to boot! This caused some people to bear ill feelings toward me when it comes to the proper usage of the English language. I take delight in pointing out the mistakes of others without ever being aware of hurting their egos.
I was a grammar douchebag.
As a writer, I am expected to lead by example when it comes to grammar. Having won spelling competitions as a kid, I usually felt that committing a spelling mistake was unacceptable.
And yet, I also make typos and grammar blunders, even if I know what’s right.
This entirely changed my perspective on things. I stopped being a grammar Nazi for one. I stopped weighing people’s intelligence based on how they use the English language. Aside from the fact that it’s illogical to do so, it really doesn’t make me a better person.
But here’s something researchers have found out:
It turns out grammatical errors don’t necessarily mean the writer didn’t know better.
I may know the difference between your and you’re. You can go on differentiating weather from whether, or affect from effect — but, for some reason, we unconsciously interchange their meanings and uses when texting or typing.
This phenomenon happens because our brains are wired in a way that makes us all predisposed to grammar slip-ups.
Yes, you read it right. Even the most notable grammar chief on the planet is not safe from making grammar mistakes.
If you spot a grammatical error on a magazine or blog that you’re reading, it’s maybe because the writer was so focused on his/her writing that the spelling or the order of letters in a word didn’t become a priority. It seemed that the only thing that’s mostly important was to type out all the ideas before they’re left forgotten.
DON’T BLAME YOURSELF
Just think about the speed that you need to fetch words and interpret meaning when writing or speaking. Our brains don’t just place every word in our vocabularies in word storage, making it easily accessible whenever we need it.
According to linguistic researchers, the mental lexicon is organised according to meaningful relationships between words. The process is called “word priming”.
THE MECHANICS OF WORD PRIMING
Let’s find out how word priming works in a study detailed in David A. Sousa’sHow the Brain Learns to Read. The subjects in the study were shown pairs of words. The first word was called “prime” and the second was called the “target”. The target can be a real word or a non-word. A real word target may or may not be related in meaning to the prime. The subject must decide as quickly as possible if the target is a word after being presented with the prime.
The study’s findings showed that the subjects are faster and more accurate in making decisions on target words that are related in meaning to the prime (e.g. swan/goose), as opposed to unrelated prime (e.g. tulip/goose).
Researchers have arrived at a suspicion that people quickly identify the related pairs that are physically close to one another. Those related words are hypothesized to be stored together in particular cerebral regions.
One common reason we have the tendency to pair words together is that it has become a habit of ours.
When we start writing, we usually focus more on the words that we type. As it progresses into a habit as shown in the way we become fluid in typing, the task becomes a routine that requires less mental stimulation. Anything that’s repeated becomes more automated.
WORD PRIMING AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH GRAMMAR MISTAKES
Have you ever intended to use the word “you’re” only to send out “your”?
Your brain is used to hearing “your” when referring to someone else’s property in ordinary conversations.
We all have specific ideas or replies when we want to express things. But when the time comes that we type these concepts out (in a hurry), we usually pick one from our vocabularies without much thinking. This happens so fast that instead of typing “you’re”, we automatically type the word “your” because we are more used to hearing it in actual conversations.
It’s no wonder that we’re susceptible to error when choosing between words that sound the same.
TYPOS DON’T MEAN YOU’RE STUPID
Even if your brain is responsible for grammar slip-ups, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or careless. It’s just that your brain is more engaged with a very high level task of conveying meaning in your writing instead of being concerned with your grammar or spelling.
Nevertheless, if you pass or publish your written work without proofreading, you’re being careless. This is why having someone else review your work is critical to spot some typos in your work.
So starting today, you can heave a sigh of relief knowing that the typos you unconsciously made in the past aren’t the results of stupidity or negligence, but because your brain is so caught up with higher-level functions to convey meaningful information to your readers.
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