One of the many unexpected side effects of the internet is that it’s shown us just how many people appear to lose the capacity for emotional self-regulation when confronted with a misused semicolon. Scroll through the comments section of any publication or simply sign on to Twitter, and you’ll find plenty of examples of people who treat typos and grammatical errors not just as ordinary mistakes, but as a kind of moral offense.
When a grammar stickler obsesses over the proper placement of an apostrophe in a Facebook status or a blog post, they’re not engaging with the actual content. How many times have we seen an online commenter whose only remark on a post about the author’s struggles with body image is “It’s their not there,” or a Twitter acquaintance who proudly screenshots a typo in a New York Times article on science education? The instinct to publicly criticize and police linguistic errors is also a way to avoid wading into the muck of other people’s thoughts and feelings, and redirect the conversation back toward oneself.
Because young or poor or immigrant populations are often among those who may not conform to traditional English grammar and spelling and punctuation usage, focusing on linguistic deviations can reinforce the barriers of privilege.
Sarah Todd writing in Quartz