I really, really love grammar. Seriously. I grew up in a family that had more copies of Strunk and White than people. When I went off to college I was accompanied by a treasured copy of the AP Stylebook. I have gotten into shouting arguments about the Oxford comma. I take grammar seriously.
Which is why some people may consider it odd that I think grammar Puritans should shut up and fuck off.
Not everyone had the benefit of a house full of books and parents that encouraged the love of language and their very own copy of Strunk and White. Some people had to try to learn grammar from (gasp) English class. A lot of those people went to schools that were underfunded, overcrowded, and full of not-very-good teachers. Furthermore, there are lots of people with disabilities that make speaking with “proper grammar”– or speaking at all– extremely difficult, as well as people who don’t speak English as a first language. Nitpicking other people’s grammar is silencing.
And can we talk about this idea of “proper grammar” for a moment? “Proper grammar” is the grammar that privileged people use. Textspeak is bad because it’s associated with teen girls! Appalachian English is bad because poor Southern people use it! African American Vernacular English is bad because poor black people use it! I cannot imagine how people who call themselves grammar nerds think that AAVE is bad, given its absolutely amazing tense/aspect system. Seriously, if you can read about tenses and aspects in AAVE and not die of joy, I question your commitment to grammar geekery.
Nevertheless, I think there are times that grammar really matters. For one thing, it is impolite to make your readers do a lot of work trying to work out what you’re saying*. (It also makes them less likely to bother to read your message.) Therefore, you should probably refrain from, randomly, putting commas in, where commas do not, belong because it slows down and confuses the reader. However, two people who both understand AAVE speaking to each other does not violate this rule, while Judith Butler does constantly, so I expect that people should be equally annoyed at Ms. Butler and at people, who put commas, everywhere.
Furthermore, I’m actually still more of a prescriptivist than a descriptivist by bent. I would prefer that people speak forms of English that have the most possible nuance, shades of meaning, expressiveness, logic, and beauty. For that reason, I’m overjoyed about the use of “he went” to mean “this is a paraphrase of what he said,” but displeased about the use of “disinterested” to mean “bored.” (It means unbiased! Bleh.) I also reserve the right to be upset about the abomination that is “irregardless” (irregardless and regardless mean the same thing! Christ, people, we just got the flammable/inflammable thing sorted out, don’t go adding more words that look like opposites and mean the same thing).
That rule is part of the reason I, as a grammar nerd, am endlessly in support of non-”proper”-grammar English: sometimes it has a beauty and emotional expressiveness than “properly” grammatical English does not. (I point skeptics to the Twitter of the incomparable quailitree.) To ignore that because of some bullshit rules that people made up in the nineteenth century is shitty as fuck.
*Unless for some reason trying to work out what you’re saying is part of the point. This is the James Joyce Exemption.